Here is an excerpt from Football Outsiders almanac 2013 on what we need to be a playoff team this year. It said exactly what I have been saying. Regardless of the o-line, Newton needs to get better. Everything from needing to read defenses faster and making better decisions to not holding the ball too long. 43% of his sacks were due to holding the ball over 3 seconds which was tops in the league. He fumbled 10 times in 2012 including the killer one against Atlanta.
Football Outsiders Almanac 2013
"Football Outsiders Almanac 2013," a comprehensive guide to the upcoming NFL and college football seasons featuring FO's advanced stats, is available now in electronic and print versions.
We know the Panthers will have their strengths in 2013. In Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and short-yardage specialist Mike Tolbert, the Panthers have a quartet of players capable of moving the ball on the ground against any defense. First-round draft pick Star Lotulelei will join Luke Kuechly, Charles Johnson & Co. to form what should be the best front seven in the division. But that's not enough to make a playoff team. Here's what needs to happen if the Panthers are going to get back into the postseason and wipe Delhomme-ageddon from their memory:
Cam Newton's passing must improve. Newton's fantasy numbers and completion rate fell in his second season, leading to a common perception that he regressed, but in some ways he showed significant improvement. His yards per play actually rose slightly, and his interception rate declined significantly. His DVOA -- our advanced play-by-play metric, explained here -- was slightly higher in 2012 than in 2011. But there's still plenty of room for improvement.
For starters, there's the red zone, where Newton's completion rate (34.9 percent) and touchdown rate (12.7 percent) were about two-thirds and half of the league average figures (52.7 percent, 23.2 percent). Newton remains a dangerous red zone rusher, but it's easier for defenses to limit his scrambling opportunities near the goal line -- he had only 26 red zone rushes in 2012, but 63 red zone passes. If Newton can just be average inside the 20, that'll add about a half-dozen touchdowns for the Panthers' offense this fall.
Newton also must learn to read defenses and decide where to go with the ball more quickly. Newton was sacked 36 times last season, and 43 percent of those plays were "long" sacks when Newton held the ball for at least three seconds, the highest rate in the league.
Finally, Newton needs to get over his case of fumble-itis. He had just five fumbles as a rookie but had 10 last season. Only five players fumbled more often in 2012.