Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

25 Apr 2011

NBC: Newton's Flaws Major Warning Sign

Mike Tanier analyzes the Auburn offense to point out why Cam Newton should scare the Carolina Panthers.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 25 Apr 2011

32 comments, Last at 17 Feb 2012, 9:19pm by jordan 3


by Michael LaRocca (not verified) :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 12:53pm

Newton just plain doesn't have enough college career starts. Wasn't it you guys who did the research on those stats? Are we looking at Weinke Era part 2?

by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 1:21pm

"No college QB who played in the 'Run Option' offense has developed into a good starting NFL QB," Russ Lande wrote in his GM Jr. scouting guide. "See Alex Smith and Vince Young."

Well, except for that Michael Vick guy -- who played in the offense that popularized the run-option.

by dbostedo :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 1:32pm

Vick? He's just the random outlier that proves the statistical distribution. Or something like that...

by Verifiable (not verified) :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 1:44pm

I think it is reasonable to argue that Vince Young, excluding his emotional problems, was making progress to becoming a decent QB. PFR's rate+ stat shows steady improvement, his carreer completion pecentage(excluding his rookie year awfulness) was near 61%. Combine this adequate passing ability with his running ability and you might have a decent QB with a very fragile psyche.

by speedegg :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 2:17pm

Wow, good article and Newton is more scheme dependent than I thought.

A buddy of mine said that the thing about running quarterbacks in college is they looooove to run. First read isn't there? Tuck and run. Check down? Check-run. He loved playing those teams because everyone got a shot on the QB. The run mentality is an intangible, so it doesn't show up as tangibles (can he transition to the NFL), but why give up something that made you successful?

Though, at the same time, I can't knock him for declaring pro. He's in an offense that won't develop him into a NFL passer, there was the pay-for-play scandal that could come back, and he could cash in if there's no rookie wage scale this year.

by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 2:20pm

man this kid screams late first round project. this guy is exactly who the colts or patriots might draft late and sit for 3 years while trying to build mechanics and scheme around his obvious physical talents. It's a real shame this class is so weak that we're going to be forced to see him struggle half-baked probably by midseason for a team like the panthers, bills, or redskins.

by jmaron :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 2:32pm

Why would these run oriented option systems work so well in college but not in the pros?

by Dean :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 2:36pm

Because in the pros, everbody's fast, not just a couple guys.

by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 3:05pm

it's more than pure physical speed, though speed is an issue. teams are just a lot _better_ in the nfl. They're more disciplined, less likely to fall for fakes, have much more time to study your scheme and tailor a defensive response, and are bigger and stronger and better tacklers.

and then there's the issue of needing to worry if your backup can run the same athletically dependent scheme. hell teams worry about left-handed quarterbacks even within the same scheme. michael vick had both these issues, and the falcons lost him twice, and both times resulted in catastrophic implosions.

by zlionsfan :: Tue, 04/26/2011 - 8:36pm

and a lot of people can cover, not just a handful of guys. If you can find and hit a couple of receivers from time to time and run like a fast RB, you'll beat enough college teams to get to a bowl game ... even Michigan managed to do that, even though Robinson's mechanics leave a lot to be desired and RR thought that good defense grew on trees. Throw in another guy who can run (so the option is actually an option) and you can run 4-5 plays to a BCS game.

Also, if you recruit the right guys, you can have 2-3 guys who can play that position, so if your first-string QB gets a concussion or pulls a hamstring or something, you don't necessarily lose a lot. Not too many NFL teams keep that kind of depth at QB these days ... it's fine for the Lions to run the read option with Stanton because who cares, but you're not going to see Stafford running it. (Ironically, the Lions probably have some of the best "depth" at QB in the league. Not that I'd want Hill and Stanton to get major playing time normally, but they did, and the offense didn't drop off that much, although that may be as much of a comment on Stafford's inability to stay healthy as it is on Linehan gearing the offense to whichever QB is playing.)

by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 2:53pm

1. QBs are a scarce commodity. QBs who can endure regular beatings by LBs and DLs are even scarcer.
2. NFL coaches have fragile egos.

The prevailing wisdom was that spreads wouldn't work in the NFL, too. Then the Pats spent a year running the Florida Gators' playbook.

by Kal :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 5:36pm

I'm going to go out on a limb and state that Tom Brady wasn't running a lot of read option plays. They ran the shotgun spread formation but it wasn't at all the same as the spread option that Oregon or Florida or most college offenses run; it was a lot closer to the run-n-shoot offenses of the 80s.

The biggest problem with running this kind of offense is that the primary way it 'wins' is via misdirection, which works a lot better when your players only get 20 hours of practice a week no matter what and you don't have coaching teams working on tendencies and ways to break things down. That doesn't mean it can't work; the wildcat formation utterly obliterated a Pats defense that was unable to adapt quickly to it. But it can't work consistently, not without a lot of change. There's the real difference, I think. You can run the spread option offense in the NFL and even have the QB run a decent amount of time, but you can't rely on just misdirection and you have to vary it up a lot. The biggest issue with the spread option is similar to what Indy runs - all the formations and personnel are the same so that you can't figure out what you're doing, but the plays themselves are really boring and repetitive. You can't do that in the NFL; you'll have to vary it.

by Kibbles :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 6:23pm

ABGT never said that the Pats spent a year running the spread OPTION. He said they spent a year running the SPREAD. Which they did. The 2007 Pats, the team that set all those offensive records, basically cribbed its entire passing game from Urban Meyer's playbook. Which is impressive, when you consider it- an offense that people didn't think could work in the SEC wound up setting scoring records in the NFL.

by Kal :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 10:03pm

Except that's really not true at all. There were not that many bubble screens, there were mostly a lot of slants and quick hitches. There was no threat of the run to pass or anything like that. The play and playbook, the reads - they were all significantly different.

The spread is not the same as the spread option, and Florida's offense at no time was like 2007's Patriot offense. It's a silly statement to make, especially comparing that success of the Patriots to Newton/Tebow as some sort of counterexample.

It's just wrong.

It's like saying because a team runs the ball that they're running the triple option.

by Jimmy :: Tue, 04/26/2011 - 7:59am

I disagree, I thought the Pats offense was full of bubble screens, an awful lot of hitches and digs and RBs releasing into holes created by clear out routes. What made Florida very difficult to defend was the Tebow run/pass threat. What made the Pats nearly unstoppable was that no one could stop Moss deep. Most of the slants I did see the Pats throw that year were check with me sight adjustments when teams started leaving Moss a ten yard cushion.

My personal suspicion is that Belichick incorporated a spread check into a lot of his plays; by which I mean that in addition to the run/pass checks they also had screens dialed up as audibles for all their sets. If that is what they were up to it would be genius and it certainly seems to work.

by Kal :: Tue, 04/26/2011 - 10:58am

Bubble screens are part of the spread option, but hitches, digs and RBs into holes is just spread stuff. That's not what Florida ran.

Most teams have a smoke option. Which means that if the corner is playing way off, all you do is throw right to that receiver at the snap. This isn't a Floridian or a New England thing and has been in college and the NFL for years. Most teams haven't executed it that well, but it's been there - specifically it's been there since Jerry Glanville did it...in the spread offense.

by Jimmy :: Tue, 04/26/2011 - 12:05pm

Obviously Tom Brady and Tim Tebow are not similar QBs. I still think both offenses were using very similar formations, route combinations and blocking schemes (and running an awful lot of the same plays). Whenever I saw Florida before watching the Pats the next day the schemes seemed very similar.

We may have to agree to disagree about this.

by Anonymouse 2 (not verified) :: Tue, 04/26/2011 - 1:00pm

Um, you guys do know that Josh McDaniels went down to Florida for a coaching clinic before the start of the 2007 season, right? That Belichick and McDaniels were very interested in Urban Meyer's system and talked extensively with Meyer throughout the off-season?

Also in that same off-season, Peter King wrote a few articles about McDaniels experimenting with the Florida spread concepts to see what worked and what didn't in training camp. He made a prescient observation the NFL better watch out because Belichick and Co were figuring out what worked and incorporated elements of Meyer's spread offense.

by Jimmy :: Tue, 04/26/2011 - 1:56pm

Yes. Or at least I did, I can't speak for Kal.

by Kal :: Tue, 04/26/2011 - 8:28pm

Yes, I knew that. And a lot of those concepts were taken to Denver too. Do you think Kyle Orton and the Broncos were running a lot of Florida offense? Really? Because it's basically the same offense there (or at least was).

It's simply a different set of plays. I'm not saying that there aren't some similar plays, but the notion that they looked at the Florida offense and said that they'll run this bubble screen off a QB run fake is really insane. It's not anything alike.

Though I will say that this makes more sense why Tebow got drafted there if you're thinking that way.

by CuseFanInSoCal :: Tue, 04/26/2011 - 5:02pm

And as an addendum to 1, 18-23 year old college QBs can do this more easily over 12 regular season games and a bowl game games than 22-35 year old NFL QBs can over 16 regular season games, 4 preseason games, and up to 4 playoff games.

by Dean :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 2:51pm

Good stuff. Not really anything we hadn't already heard, but much more clearly detailed than the sound bytes Big Media usually force-feeds us.

by oc footballguy (not verified) :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 6:38pm

Cam Newton will make a quick and positive impact, but that will be it. He will not be in the league 5 years from now.

I think the best ways of measuring players is to compare them to players with whom they have similar playing styles.

Player Best Case Worst Case Likely
Cam Newton Steve McNair JaMarcus Russell Vince Young
Blaine Gabbert Brad Johnson Dan McGuire Scott Mitchell
Jake Locker Steve Young Kyle Boller Jake Plummer
Ryan Mallet Drew Bledsoe Ryan Leaf Tony Banks
Andy Dalton Drew Brees Alex Smith Brian Griese

by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Wed, 04/27/2011 - 2:05pm

Tony Banks was much faster than Ryan Mallet.

by Mike Tanier :: Mon, 04/25/2011 - 10:16pm

Hehehe. I forgot to post this and am glad one of the other FO guys was paying attention!

One point a couple of you made: the Spread and the Spread Option are very different offenses. That is even allowing for the fact that both terms are very general, anyway.

And now, within spread options, there is so much variety. There's a traditional spread option, with a shotgun QB and a running back, lots of zone-read plays and speed option plays, plus passes. Then there is the type of thing Tebow ran, which was more evolved toward some kind of single-wing thing from the 1940s. Auburn's offense was like that, only with few surface similarities: the formations were different but the concepts were the same.

That's the offense that worries me when scouting a QB,because there are too many easy passes and almost no reads.

I will touch on this again in Walkthrough in a day or so.

by AlanSP :: Tue, 04/26/2011 - 2:26pm

I'm pretty skeptical of "player was in X system, so he won't be good" arguments. It's certainly more difficult to tell how good a player will be if he played in an unusual system (i.e. unusual by NFL standards), simply because he'll be asked to do different things as a pro.

I remember people saying the same thing about spread offenses (not spread options), the whole "so-and-so has rarely taken snaps from under center, so he won't be good" argument. That came up a lot last year with Bradford and McCoy.

But it's important to distinguish between "hard to evaluate" and "not good." Just because bad players have looked good in certain systems, that doesn't mean any player from that system is bad. Presumably, a great player would also look really good in that system.

by t.d. :: Tue, 04/26/2011 - 3:20pm

McCoy is still an unknown commodity. Lots of guys have a couple good games before teams get tape on them

by Jerry :: Tue, 04/26/2011 - 5:07pm

"player was in X system, so he won't be good" is the obvious, sometimes knee-jerk response to "This guy will be a great pro - look at his college numbers." And while I'm sure the discussion in NFL front offices is more nuanced, there are probably guys who still smart from failed draft picks where they didn't account for the system enough.

by Packer Pete (not verified) :: Tue, 04/26/2011 - 8:18pm

Great article, and it didn't even touch on the mental aspects of the game. Offensive complexities, presnap reads, post snap reads. Newton will need several years to pick up that portion of the game so necessary for top NFL QBs.

by Adam H (not verified) :: Mon, 05/02/2011 - 3:50pm

I'm pretty sure Cam had simple coverage reads on plays like the bubble screen tanier diagrammed (if the WR was covered he would go to Plan B). They may have been pre-snap reads, but still reads.

According to EVERY first-hand account I've read, Cam loves football and works as hard as anyone, and those are the #1 traits for an NFL QB to have. From what I saw last season (around 8 Auburn games), he's an accurate passer downfield, too.

At the very least, he'll do better than JaMarcus.

by 4rx (not verified) :: Tue, 10/18/2011 - 10:39am

Though, at the same time, I can't knock him for declaring pro. He's in an offense that won't develop him into a NFL passer, there was the pay-for-play scandal that could come back.

by jordan 3 (not verified) :: Fri, 02/17/2012 - 9:19pm

christian louboutin men 1st, he took just one month christian louboutins before long the child to christian louboutin the epidemic prevention station ...