As the loudest, most conspicuous Cam Newton defender of 2011 – not to mention one of the most productive passers in pro football history – Hall of Famer Warren Moon has a fair amount of credibility when it comes to critiquing the Carolina Panthers' struggling second-year quarterback.
After Panthers owner Jerry Richardson reacted to the team's 1-5 start by firing longtime general manager Marty Hurney on Monday, plenty of fingers were pointed at Newton – who has followed up his record-setting rookie season with a baffling sophomore slump.
While Moon believes placing the bulk of the blame on Newton for the franchise's struggles is a stretch, he does feel that criticisms of the young player's demeanor have been valid and believes it's an issue that must be addressed.
"The big thing with him is he doesn't like losing," Moon said Monday. "He doesn't handle it very well. I don't see anything wrong with that; it's OK not to like losing. You just can't show it as the leader of the football team.
"You have to project optimism and calmness to the players around you. You can't be demoralized. He's not showing optimism. He's looking puzzled. He looks like a guy who doesn't have all the answers, and his teammates see that."
In fact Moon, who helped prepare Newton before the Panthers selected him with the first overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft, would like to see Newton emulate the young quarterback he's currently mentoring: Seattle Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson.
"You wouldn't know if we won or lost when you listen to him talk after a game," Moon said of Wilson. "That's what you want. Listen to Tom Brady or Peyton Manning after a game. They keep everything even-keeled. They never get too high or too low.
"Cam's an emotional player. He needs to learn to saddle that. If I was to talk to him – and I need to give him a call – I would tell him his demeanor's got to change in the face of adversity. It's more of a maturity thing; he's got to grow up in this area. He's got to get realistic that they're not a good football team right now and it's going to be tough to win as much as he thinks he should, until they get some more good players."
Newton's visible pouting, which became an issue as the Panthers went 6-10 during his rookie campaign, has drawn even more scrutiny this season. Moon understands that, though he believes the criticism thrown Newton's way is disproportionate to the problem, especially in the wake of Hurney's firing.
"I think a lot of this is because so many people want to say 'I told you so' about him, but couldn't because he was so good last year," Moon said. "I think people are overreacting. How can he be a bust? He just had one of the great years a rookie has ever had, and now he can't play? Come on."
Moon, who went undrafted after a stellar career at Washington and starred for five seasons in the Canadian Football League (leading the Edmonton Eskimos to five Grey Cup titles) before getting his NFL shot, remains attuned to the stereotyping of African-American quarterbacks and is convinced race is one reason Newton has become so polarizing.
"I don't understand it," Moon said. "I heard somebody compare him to Vince Young. It's the same old crap – it's always a comparison of one black to another black. I get tired of it. I get tired of defending it.
"If you want to compare him to someone because of his demeanor, compare him to Jay Cutler. There are a lot of guys who whine and moan. Cam's not biting anybody's head off or pushing his linemen. He's just disgruntled, and not handling losing well, because, think about it, he basically didn't lose in college.
"I don't think Cam's as bad as Cutler, because Cutler looks like he doesn't give a damn sometimes, or he's yelling and cussing at someone. Cam, he just looks down when they're losing."
[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Jason Cole on Cam Newton's lack of leadership]
And while Moon concedes that Newton isn't playing as well as he did while winning NFL offensive rookie of the year honors last season, he cites numerous other factors that have hampered the team's ability to win games.
"It's not like he's the reason the Carolina Panthers are losing, or the reason Marty Hurney got fired," Moon said. "He's not picking the players. He's not playing defense. He's not calling the plays."
In his postgame comments following Carolina's 19-14 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Newton was critical of the team's lack of offensive balance. Though the franchise invested tens of millions of dollars in contract extensions to veterans Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, the two halfbacks combined to touch the ball just 15 times against the Cowboys.
From Moon's perspective, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski – who got so much praise for facilitating Newton's rookie success after an offseason in which the lockout prevented any formal preparation – has contributed to the problem by altering his scheme in a way that might stunt the quarterback's long-term development.
"I don't know why they got away from what they were doing last year," Moon said, referring to Chudzinski and coach Ron Rivera. "They were running more of a pro-style offense, and now they're going more to the read-option, the stuff he did in college. I think some of it is coaching. I think some of it is they don't have enough good players yet. And there's no question he's not playing as well as last year.
"That offense doesn't allow you to be an NFL-type quarterback. It's a lot of tricks, sticking the ball into a running back's stomach, trying to freeze the defense. Even though he can do that and had success with it in college, I don't think it serves him well in the long run. You can't keep going back and forth. I think he's a little bit confused with the footwork, and I think that's one of the problems with his accuracy – his feet are crossed up. Why this change? I think it's backfiring. I think they're out-thinking themselves."
Moon also took some shots at the Panthers' defense, saying, "In Atlanta, they're on the verge [of pulling an upset], and Matt Ryan throws a 59-yard pass from his own 1 [-yard line]. That's Cam's fault?"
And Moon isn't overly impressed with Newton's receivers, either, specifically calling out veteran wideout Steve Smith: "It's not like he's playing with all these great players. Steve Smith, if he's not mad at somebody, he plays pretty well. But most of the time he's got his own private thing going, and he's pissed off, and distracted."
In that regard, Moon believes there are some parallels between what Newton is going through in Carolina and Wilson's Seattle situation.
"He's not a guy who's playing with incredible talent around him," Moon said of Wilson. "Sidney Rice, at times he resembles the player he was a few years ago, but at other times he doesn't. Doug Baldwin is a free agent off the street. Golden Tate can make the spectacular catch, but he's not the most polished route runner, and he has been slow to develop. These are the guys he's throwing the ball to. Plus it's a conservative offense. It's run, run, pass – which I hate. But I think he's doing OK for where he is right now."
On a positive note, Moon believes that Wilson and Newton both possess commendable work ethics that will allow the young quarterbacks to fight through their respective issues and improve.
If you could pair Newton's physical abilities with Wilson's unruffled attitude? "You'd have two perfect quarterbacks," Moon said.
Despite Newton's current imperfections, Moon is confident this is just a rough patch in what will ultimately be a great career. He noted that future stars and No. 1 overall picks such as Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning struggled early in their careers while their teams were poor, and recalled that during his first NFL season with the Oilers, "we were 2-14 [the season before] I got there. We were rebuilding, going through a coaching change, the same stuff. Things started off slow, and I took all the criticism. And then we got it going and were a perennial playoff team."
Those memories are one reason Moon does not sound like someone who is close to abdicating his role as Newton's chief defender.
"I'm gonna talk to him and find out where his mind is," Moon said. "He'll fight through it. We're not even at the halfway point of the season yet, and everybody's throwing in the towel.
"He just doesn't like losing. Is that bad? No, but you can't show it – not in this era where there's so much television coverage. You can't have a bad moment on the sidelines anymore. But if that's the worst thing he does, he's fine. That's fixable."
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