Film Room
Analysis beyond the numbers

Film Room: Cam Newton

Film Room: Cam Newton
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Derrik Klassen

The Carolina Panthers have faced no shortage of personnel change over the course of the year. Tight end Greg Olsen was the first to go after falling victim to a broken foot in Week 2 that left him sidelined until Week 11. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was then shipped off to Buffalo before the trade deadline, leaving room for rookie offensive weapon Curtis Samuel to step up in his place. Samuel broke his ankle a couple weeks later on a dropped touchdown pass. As if matters could not get worse, right guard Trai Turner has been out for the past month due to a concussion and wide receiver Damiere Byrd is expected to remain out with a leg injury. Carolina's offense is a who's-who of practice squad players and career backups.

Once again, the burden of the offense has been thrust upon quarterback Cam Newton. Newton, the NFL MVP two seasons ago, is more than capable of carrying an offense, but doing so with as little talent around him as he has right now has been a challenge. Newton finished the year with career-lows in ANY/A and yards per completion, while accumulating a career-high 139 carries for 754 yards.

More so than ever before, Newton has been the lifeblood of the running game, while also trying to change his passing style to be more quick-game oriented. The talent drop-off throughout the season and the Panthers receivers' inability to get open in the quick game (or at all) only magnified Newton's necessity to run. In every way imaginable, the offense became something entirely different than what it was supposed to be in Week 1.

Such a reliance on Newton is a double-edged sword. On one hand, Newton is a top-10 quarterback who is not far removed from MVP-caliber play, and his ability to take over games is well documented. Conversely, the offense around Newton is barren in a way that does not allow him to slip up or miss a beat. Newton has to be firing on all cylinders or the offense dissolves into nothingness. As a result, the offense may fall behind on the scoreboard, and Newton responds by becoming reckless with his decision-making, failing to dig the Panthers' out of the deficit. Last week's meltdown versus the Atlanta Falcons highlights the dangers of Newton not being perfect in a given game.

Newton regularly locked onto targets and skipped on checkdown options against the Falcons. Though Newton is aggressive in nature, he is normally more calculated than he was last weekend. Newton was clearly pressing for throws that were not there.


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It is third-and-10 early in the second quarter, the Panthers already down 7-0. The Falcons show a Cover-0 blitz look pre-snap, but transition to a man-free (Cover-1) defense post-snap. Newton locks onto Olsen, who is split out left as a wide receiver, and does not even think about throwing to anyone else. Newton fires to Olsen without hesitation, though Olsen's route never crosses the line to gain and Newton knows the safety is abandoning the running back to help disrupt the pass to Olsen.

In Newton's defense, running back Christian McCaffrey whiffed a block on linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, allowing the defender to quickly get free and pop Newton during the throw. It may have been the pressure that confirmed to Newton he needed to throw to Olsen and release the ball immediately. Nevertheless, Newton made a questionable play.

Fortunately for the Panthers, Newton settled in later in the second quarter and throughout the third. Newton provided a handful of special plays that few other quarterbacks could mimic. In spite of a rocky start by himself and a poor supporting cast, Newton kept the Panthers in the game for a while.


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This is prime Cam Newton: surveying the intermediate portion of the field and hanging in the pocket to deliver a critical strike.

Newton begins the play by opening up to his right. Newton is looking for Devin Funchess, but cornerback Desmond Trufant is draped all over him. Newton realizes Funchess will not create separation at the break of his route.

With a cool demeanor, Newton brings his eyes back to the other side of the field to find Olsen on an out route. Olsen is hardly open at the time Newton rears the ball back to throw, but Newton's velocity fits the ball right into Olsen's chest without allowing the defender to catch up to disrupt the throw.


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Early in the fourth quarter, Newton tossed this beauty to Funchess to set the Panthers up for a field goal that cut the Falcons lead to 16-10 Few quarterbacks could have made this throw in the fashion Newton did. Newton first exhausted the options to his left, looking for Kaelin Clay sprinting down the numbers and Olsen crossing the field. Newton then redirected his attention to Funchess late in the down, but never brought his feet with him to make the throw. Footwork be damned, Newton rocketed a 44-yard pass to Funchess, who did not have much separation on the cornerback. As the old adage goes, there is no defense for a perfect pass, and Newton has the potential to provide them at any moment.

However, Newton's heroism did not last. With 4:20 left in the fourth quarter, the Panthers were tasked with first-and-10 on their own 25-yard line, trailing 19-10. A touchdown drive would not have been enough to clinch a tie, but the Panthers needed a touchdown to make a possible game-winning drive easier.

Newton immediately threw the game away.


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McCaffrey and Funchess were open on Texas and drag routes, respectively. Newton could have taken the yards, especially from Funchess, and hoped the player got out of bounds. It would have been a risk, in its own way, to keep the clock running, but it would have at least kept the ball in Panthers possession. Newton instead looked for Olsen, who Newton had been targeting all game in pressure situations. Olsen never gained any separation from linebacker Deion Jones, but that did not deter Newton from attempting the throw anyway. Jones was able to disrupt the catch point and tip the ball up, giving safety Keanu Neal a layup interception.

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On the ensuing possession, Atlanta kicked a field goal to further their lead to 22-10. Carolina got the ball back once more and surprisingly drove down the field, only for Newton to throw another interception with 10 seconds left in the game.

Newton knew he was pressing, and admitted as much in a post-game press conference. During the presser, Newton also mentioned he has to understand receivers will not be found "scot-free" in the open field from here on out. Considering the offense is down to practice squad players and hobbled veterans, it is not wrong of Newton to be aware of that, though it is abnormally candid to speak about it.

Week 17 in Atlanta, both the on-field product and the post-game reflection, accentuated the dilemma Carolina's offense is tasked with: Newton has to be at his best -- or else. At times this season, Newton has been able to overcome the situation, but Newton has just as often crumbled under the pressure. Carolina's playoff fate relies primarily on whether or not Newton can play to the MVP standard that he has in the past.


14 comments, Last at 07 Jan 2018, 10:08pm

1 Re: Film Room: Cam Newton

Is this a joke? He had one great season and otherwise he's a low-percentage, low-gain, high-INT guy with freakish athletic skills and a fantastic defense to give him great field position and TOP. Nowhere near a Top-10 QB.

2 Re: Film Room: Cam Newton

I'm with you - career high is 7% passing DVOA, and most years he's below average.

He's clearly got a ton of talent, but his mechanics are terrible, and that makes him inaccurate, and until he fixes that, the plan will always be to confine him to the pocket and make him throw.

People would have a lot lower opinion of him if Carolina's defense hadn't been so good for most of his career.

3 Re: Film Room: Cam Newton

If every defense of Cam you've read says, there's very little talent around him on offense and he still is able to make things work, year in and year out doesn't that indicate that, mechanics be damned, he might actually be a good player. He has a literal practice squad player as the second WR. Bersun is brought back year after year basically because he's really smart and does a lot in player meetings and can catch a ball here and there. Otherwise, he's cut and brought back over and over. Hell 2015 he didn't have much and produced, but it was noted that it was basically because he was playing great every single game, not that anyone around him was that great.

4 Re: Film Room: Cam Newton

If you look at his passing rate stats you'll see that they are fairly similar to Brett Favre's and he's a much better runner. He reminds me a lot of Brett Favre actually.

6 Re: Film Room: Cam Newton

Favre's career completion percentage is 5 points higher than Cam's, and Favre played in an NFL that completed about 5 percent less passes than they do now. Favre also got sacked way less.

5 Re: Film Room: Cam Newton

Newton is a tremendous underachiever given his physical skills. His career will go as far as his legs can take him. Him winning the MVP in '15 was a bad joke, and based entirely on his team's record (which was primarily due to the defense) and his physical plays as a runner. He was an average passer that year. Meanwhile Brady had a year for the ages, overcoming a decimated o-line and receiving corps to nearly lead the Pats to the Super Bowl. The way Brady dealt with pressure that season is a masterclass in footwork, accuracy and decision making.

8 Re: Film Room: Cam Newton

"His career will go as far as his legs can take him. Him winning the MVP in '15 was a bad joke, and based entirely on his team's record (which was primarily due to the defense) and his physical plays as a runner."

Do his running plays not count?

If you take away their mobility, are Gannon, Tarkenton, Elway, or Young the same guys?

9 Re: Film Room: Cam Newton

All of those guys were significantly better passers than Newton.

Yes, Newton's running ability has value, in that it helps his team's running game (both on his runs, and with running backs), and it helps keep teams honest - but he's still not a top 10 quarterback in any sort of way. He's just not accurate.

For all the bitching, look at Tyrod Taylor this year - significantly better DVOA running, way less turnovers both running and passing, better completion percentage, same Y/A, slightly less Y/C. Gets sacked more than Newton, but turns the ball over so much less frequently that it more than makes up for it (both less interception prone, and less fumble prone). And his receivers aren't really any better than Newton's.

And people were trying to run Taylor out of town (and start Peterman for christ's sake) - nobody was arguing he was top 10.

Newton has way more talent than Taylor does - but he's not particularly good at using it at this point.

7 Re: Film Room: Cam Newton

I want to echo the rest of the comments. This reads like an apology piece. Like Flacco, Cams mvp year looks like an aberrant, unlikely to be repeated career season. He's an erratic thrower with poor pocket presence and footwork. Such QBs tend to make their supporting casts look a lot worse. Jimmy Gs arrival showed just how different a supporting cast can look when you have a competent, disciplined pocket passer.

11 Re: Film Room: Cam Newton

I don't think some of the commentators here have seen many Panther games. Cam Newton has games where he is incredibly accurate on very difficult throws. He also has some games like the Atlanta game in which he is off on most of his throws.
The completion percentage is never going to be high in the Panther's offense, unless they transition completely to a short passing game from their established long passing game. Without any professional receivers, its not going to be high even then.

12 Re: Film Room: Cam Newton

Seen plenty, living in Atlanta and being a Saints' fan. I've seen him miss on a shovel pass by a full yard. He can make some astonishing throws without a doubt - but he holds onto the ball far too long (despite having a really good offensive line), is good for 2+ sacks a game, and has more picks than anyone not named Kizer. It seems a bit charitable to say that it's a byproduct of his offense to be low-%, I could see bottom third if he were otherwise all-around productive, but he's between Siemian and Trubisky in that regard. Again, not a top 10 QB, and the mere suggestion is absurd. And guys like Brady have weathered years with substandard receivers and still maintained production. Olson and McCaffrey aren't exactly slouches.

14 Re: Film Room: Cam Newton

any chance we could have the player cards of the main player being discussed added to the page, so we could actually have the facts available?