Let me start by saying that I have great respect for colleague Don Banks of SI.com. Great writer, great reporter. But his recent comparison of Carolina Panthers second-year quarterback Cam Newton to Vince Young leaves me cold.
Yes, some of Newton's numbers point to a regression that is vaguely similar to Young's in 2007, the latter's second year with the Tennessee Titans. Furthermore, there's the emotional reaction by Newton following losses that even his father Cecil believes could be toned down.
But let's put this in a different perspective. There's another prominent quarterback out there whose numbers over his first few seasons pale in comparison to Newton's stat line. Yet, somehow, the New York Giants' Eli Manning has turned out to be a great player.
For all those who think it's absurd to compare Newton to Manning, look at the numbers. In particular, check one critical stat: Passing yards per attempt. That's the most important stat in offensive football, bar none.
Through 21 games of his career, Newton is averaging 8.0 yards per attempt, including a league-high 8.5 this season. Yes, it's only one stat and Newton has made plenty of mistakes this season, including more interceptions (5) than touchdown passes (4) and critical errors at the end of the past two losses against Atlanta (a late fumble) and Seattle (a missed throw that could have won the game).
But the fact is that Manning didn't average 8.0 yards an attempt in for a full season until last year. In fact, over his first five seasons, Manning never topped 7.0 yards an attempt. Manning didn't start to show signs of his true brilliance until his playoff run in 2007.
With that in mind, Newton deserves far more patience and, more important, doesn't deserve to be lumped in with Young. Comparing Newton to Young is like comparing a youthful Monet to a child who paints by numbers.
Anybody who saw Young from early in his career knew that he really couldn't play the NFL game. His passing skills were too crude and his ability to read a defense was non-existent. Worse, he couldn't handle the workload or the emotion of the game.
With Newton, about the only common trait with Young is the emotional side. But where Young's emotion drove him from the game, Newton's emotion drives him to work harder. Newton's problem with emotion is the message it sends to teammates.
Of course, the ultimate measure is winning and, so far, the Panthers are 1-4 this season after going 6-10 a year ago. There were promises by Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil of a Super Bowl appearance and some analysts projected a breakthrough improvement. To me, at least, that seemed like a stretch
Remember that the Panthers were 2-14 in 2010. Remember that last year, despite the improvement under Newton and first-year coach Ron Rivera, the Panthers lost by double-digits four times. Remember that the defense was awful and the team only won when it scored big (the latter five victories came when the Panthers scored 28 points or more).
So far this season, three of the four losses have been by less than a touchdown. In other words, the Panthers are a play or two from winning each of those games. They have been blown out only once. It took a stunning comeback by Atlanta for the Falcons to beat them. It took a lot of their own mistakes for Tampa Bay and Seattle to beat them.
By comparison, Young was winning games in 2007 (his second season) with absurd stats (one game in which he completed six of 14 passes for 42 yards and another when he threw three interceptions and zero TDs). The Titans won games back then by playing around Young and depending on their defense.
The Panthers are the complete opposite. They fully ride Newton's shoulders. While there is no assurance he'll be able to hold up, there are signs of greatness.
1. Houston Texans: Yes, defensive tackle J.J. Watt is incredible, but losing linebacker Brian Cushing is a huge hole to fill.
2. Atlanta Falcons: Roll Falcons? Only two of next eight opponents currently have a winning record.
3. San Francisco 49ers: A 1.9 yards per play differential through first five weeks is scary good.
4. Baltimore Ravens: No style-point deductions from win at Kansas City … not yet, at least.
5. Chicago Bears: Showing what can happen when you have a great nucleus of veteran players on D.
[Fantasy video: Sneaky WR sleeper in Week 6]
28. Carolina Panthers: Ryan Kalil's Super Bowl prediction looks bad. Then again, so does mine (New Orleans).
29. Kansas City Chiefs: GM Scott Pioli was scouting the West Coast this week. Some Matt Barkley recon?
30. Jacksonville Jaguars: Rank last in scoring, yards per game, passing yards per game … the anti-Triple Crown.
31. Tennessee Titans: They have been outscored by a stunning 93 points overall this season. Where do you begin?
32. Cleveland Browns: You know something is weird when both Mike Silver and I pick the Browns to win.
THIS AND THAT
• Nice work by Atlanta over the past two games as it picked up fourth-quarter comeback wins over Carolina and then the Washington Redskins. While the Falcons still rank No. 2 in my top five, here's a cautionary tale about fourth-quarter comebacks. In 2010, the top-seeded team in the NFC playoff went 6-2 in those types of games, only to get blown out in its playoff opener by the eventual champion Green Bay Packers. Yeah, that team was Atlanta. While this Falcons team has a more aggressive offensive approach than the 2010 version, the defense has many of the same holes, starting with an inconsistent pass rush. As much as the Falcons are improved, the question is whether they are improved enough.
• On Sunday, the New England Patriots visit the Seattle Seahawks in something of a reunion. This is the first time that Pete Carroll has faced the Patriots since he was fired by them after the 1999 season and replaced by Bill Belichick. Carroll coached three seasons in New England and made the playoffs twice. The Patriots then won the Super Bowl in 2001. Most people would think Carroll had a lot of influence on that New England roster that won the title. Truth is, only five players that Carroll brought in from 1997 to 1999 were on the Patriots first title team by the time they played the game in New Orleans. They were offensive lineman Damien Woody, running back Kevin Faulk, safety Tebucky Jones, tight end Rod Rutledge and defensive lineman Brandon Mitchell. Players such as Willie McGinest, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and Tedy Bruschi were all drafted before Carroll got there.
• While I generally agree with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's approach to the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal (the penalties are too severe for the players, but some form of punishment is deserved), Goodell's letter to former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita (currently with Cleveland) showed a distinct lack of understanding about the culture of the league. In the letter, Goodell wrote that he was "surprised and disappointed by the fact that [Fujita], a former defensive captain and a passionate advocate for player safety, ignored such a program and permitted it to continue. … If you had spoken up, perhaps other players would have refused to participate and the consequences with which we are now dealing could have been avoided." What Goodell fails to understand is that in a business where contracts are not guaranteed, where the vast majority of players are interchangeable, and where coaches talk all the time, speaking up against a coach can be a death sentence for a player. Fujita, whose suspension was reduced to one game, laughed knowingly Wednesday when that point came up in discussion. Fact is, if Goodell wants more accountability in the game, he has to create a different environment.
• On the subject of suspensions, it was a somewhat cruel coincidence that the NFL announced the reinstatement of the suspension in the bounty scandal on the same week that former Detroit defensive lineman and funnyman Alex Karras died. For those who don't know their NFL history, Karras and Green Bay's Paul Hornung were suspended for the 1963 season for gambling on NFL games. Those were the first serious suspensions in NFL history. Karras overcame the black mark to have a successful career both on and off the field.
• I had the pleasure of sitting across the aisle from former Jacksonville left tackle Tony Boselli, who is now a radio analyst, during a short flight recently. As a former offensive lineman, Boselli said he agrees with many folks about the deteriorating state of offensive line play. "There are a bunch of teams that can't protect anybody right now," Boselli said. The problem? "The spread offense is killing offensive linemen. There are guys coming out of college who have never played with their hand in the ground. How can you learn to be physical and do the things in the run game you have to do in the NFL if you don't learn to play with your hand in the ground?"
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