Has the reigning NFL MVP gotten back into old habits of throwing off his back foot too much? Has the rest of his footwork gone askew?
Did the pressure Newton was under in the Super Bowl loss to Denver -- and again in a Week 1 loss against the Broncos and Week 3 setback to Minnesota -- impact the psyche of the sixth-year quarterback in terms of confidence in his protection?
Has the sore shoulder that Newton rested in practice much of the past two weeks become more of an issue than anybody realizes?
There’s no denying Newton is in arguably the worst slump of his NFL career. He has completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in five of his past six games, including a season-low 41.9 percent in this past Saturday’s 33-16 loss to Atlanta.
He’s had only two games with a lower percentage, 35.7 in 2014 against New Orleans and 41.4 in 2012 against Seattle.
In terms of mechanics, Coach Ron Rivera said there are “times you do see’’ a slippage.
“He is playing with the bad shoulder, trying to do the best he can with that,’’ he said. “Part of it, too, is having to get comfortable again with a [new] group of guys in front of him [because of injuries].
“You see some really good balls he throws, and just some things that show you he’s got that ability. And every now and then you will see something and you sit there and go, ‘Ah, come on! Have better footwork and stuff like that.'"
Rivera said a lot of that is reflective on the amount of pressure Newton got early in the season. The Broncos sacked the 6-foot-5, 260-pound quarterback three times and hit him countless others in the opener, and the Vikings sacked him eight times in Week 3.
“Sometimes it kind of sets you back a little bit,’’ Rivera said.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula said Newton’s drop in completion percentage has more to do with a collective effort by the offense than poor mechanics.
He’s not opposed to Newton throwing off his back foot as long as the quarterback is transferring his balance and following through with the throw.
Shula said some good quarterback coaches taught him years ago that you “don’t have to have that ability to step up and still make accurate throws.’’
He mentioned former NFL quarterback Brad Johnson as an example.
“You can’t look at a completion percentage and say, ‘Oh, he’s not very accurate,'" Shula said. “What I’m saying is it’s not just all about footwork and completely throwing off your back foot. There’s going to be times when you can’t step into a throw because those guys up front are pushing the pocket.
“If you can find a quarterback that has a good base and not really have to really step into that throw, that’s when you have a good quarterback, and that’s what we have.’’
Shula said it’s hard to reach how much Newton’s shoulder is a factor because “he’s such a tough guy.’’
“He’s not going to let you know if it’s really bothering him,’’ he said.
Moving forward into 2017 and beyond, Rivera is more concerned with building an offense around Newton than he is with mechanics.
He understands that as Newton, 27, gets older he will have to become more of a disciplined pocket passer than a dual-threat quarterback.
When the Panthers ran the ball well last season and were balanced offensively, Newton had a career-best 35 touchdown passes and completed 59.8 percent of his passes. And as Shula reminded, he was questioned about mechanics then, too.
With the running game struggling this season behind a makeshift line, Newton has thrown 18 touchdown passes -- tied for a career low -- and is on target for a career-low 52.7 completion percentage.
“We understand and we get that there are some things that have to evolve around him, because he’s evolving as a quarterback, as well,’’ he said. “He’s getting older and he’s going to be a different style player. We know that much.’’