Not So Fast: Cam Newton Edition

In the first two weeks of this season, Cam Newton has put up incredible, record-setting statistics for a rookie quarterback. Against the Cardinals and Packers, he has completed 62.7% of his passes, throwing for 854 yards and three touchdowns. In doing so, he has appeared poised, demonstrating immense arm strength. From the outset, it has been clear that he is a vocal leader who instills a vast degree of confidence amongst his teammates.

In his Tuesday column, SI’s Peter King detailed some of the reasons why Newton has been so strong both physically and mentally. Former Jets and Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington spoke to King about the mental side:

“Look at the funky defense Arizona had in there on his touchdown to Steve Smith,” said Pennington. “They’re just walking around before the snap, clearly trying to confuse him about who’d be rushing and who’d drop in coverage. At the snap of the ball, there’s not anybody in a three-point stance. Then at the snap, the backside safety comes toward the line, [cornerback] Patrick Peterson blitzes, and through the confusion, Smith runs by the safety and Cam ignores everything and throws him a perfect ball for a touchdown. For a rookie to know that, to process that, is pretty special.”

Yahoo’s Doug Farrar, who also writes for Football Outsiders and is an outstanding source of football information and analysis, briefly acknowledged that Newton “helped his team lose to the Packers” in throwing two interceptions to Charles Woodson and one to Morgan Burnett before glowingly writing:

However, Newton kept his team in both of those games, and when you watch the tape against the Packers, it was the little things he did that impressed. The way he rolled out right against slide protection left on the first play and hit the open man on a play his rollout made possible. The way he set one of the NFL’s best front sevens on edge with his option fakes. The way he put up 40 more rushing yards than anyone else on his team, and scored Carolina’s only rushing touchdown for the second straight week. The way he forced deep coverage with his exceptional arm … and all this with a Panthers team that featured the league’s most incompetent offense in 2010.

While Newton has put up better statistics in his first two games than a rookie quarterback has ever done before, the praise has not been qualified enough with detail of some of his substantial errors. Of all the coverage I have read, only FoxSports’s Jason Whitlock really called out Newton. In his NFL Truths column, Whitlock wrote:

Cam Newton lost the Packers game on second-and-goal from the 3 early in the fourth quarter with the Panthers trailing by 10 points.

 The Panthers went play-action pass, Legedu Naanee was wide open on a simple out route. Newton didn’t set his feet properly and threw wildly incomplete. It was a really simple, easy pass. It was a throw a quarterback must make.

 The Panthers had to settle for a field goal. If they’d scored a touchdown there, they could’ve kicked a game-tying field goal on their next possession rather than going for it on fourth-and-6 at the 6.

 In his first two games, Newton has dazzled with gaudy stats. You can’t look at passing stats anymore. The numbers have been perverted by the rules. The truth about quarterbacks is in the details. Accuracy under pressure, accuracy in pressure situations, ability to remain confident and fearless after taking hits.

 Accuracy is a problem for Cam Newton. Maybe it will get fixed. Maybe it won’t.

To be fair to Newton, his footwork and accuracy have improved substantially in a relatively short period of time. I cannot ever recall witnessing this fast a learning curve by a quarterback between seasons, whether it be a college quarterback transitioning to the NFL or one with prior professional experience. However, Newton has been almost universally lauded for performances in two games that his team lost. When the Packers adjusted to him in the middle of the second quarter of Sunday’s game, Newton failed to counter.

Given what we have seen, it is reasonable to expect that Cam Newton will one day be an elite NFL quarterback. Given what has been written, it would be reasonable to assume that this is already the case. It is not. As defenses have more tape on Newton, he is going to have to continue his steep learning curve of the Panthers playbook and is going to have to get better at making in-game adjustments. The Panthers will likely continue to struggle to win games this season; in some of those games Newton will put up exceptional stats and in some he will probably look terrible.

While Cam Newton has certainly exceeded any and all performance expectations that were bestowed upon him in the preseason, he still has a long way to go before he and the Panthers win more often than they lose. It is a good bet that this journey will be supremely fun and interesting to watch.

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3 Responses to Not So Fast: Cam Newton Edition

  1. ryan, your assessment of cam is a unfair, and wrong. cam is playing his 2nd game at the most complex position in the NFL. anytime i read that a QB does not win as a member of a team, i say it is 95% of the time wrong. the QB can only play his position, and be a leader. the receivers must make catches and block. the O’line must block, and the defense must keep the opponent out of the end zone.

    the best QBs throw interceptions, and miss receivers. cam has been excellent even compared to an experienced QB. he recognized a wide open receiver for a td v GB that was called back per penalty.

    cam newton has more physical skill than any QB now in the NFL, and perhaps ever. the physical skills are unmatched at his position. will he develop the mental skills? it is wrong to judge for at least 2 to 3 yrs of play.

    any writer (whitlock) that “attacks” a 2 game rookie who has thrown for 400 + yds against arguably the best defense in NFL is way off base. in 2 games he’s thrown for 800 + yards. all of this for a carolina team with no, none, running game threat, and a fair at best blocking O’line. the running game too is on the shoulders of newton.

    the man is a phenom. his poise is apparent. his leadership appears to be there if you watch his presence in the huddle. he has field presence, and his vision rotates under pressure among his receivers. after 2 games, thrown into the fire without experience, he has done all that can be asked of a rookie QB.

    the fact his team lost the 2 games can not be put on the shoulders of cam. anyone who tries to blemish his debut knows little about the real world of professional football, and is straining to be critical of 2 outstanding games’ performance.

  2. Ajit Iyer says:

    Ryan, I think you’re pretty much right on here. The basic stats would show that Newton has been very good, and far beyond expectations thus far, but a deeper look shows that in crunch time, Newton did not succeed. His interceptions where his own mistakes, his missed TD pass to Nanee was a VERY simple toss, and his lack of apparent composure on the bench (sitting with a towel on his head avoiding teammates) when his team was very much in it, did not show me a true leader. Of course, there are many ways to lead, but in that situation, the only comparison that came to mind with his sideline “antics” was Jay Cutler, who is widely thought to be a poor leader.

    Obviously, it is too early to evaluate Newton either way. I think he has more skill than anyone coming into the NFL in a long time (the last one who came in with as much pure skill imo was Vick) but he needs to mature a lot still, as both a player and a leader.

    Louis, I don’t think Ryan actually criticized anything Newton did… the way I read it, he’s simply saying it’s too early to crown him the new poster child of the NFL like JIm Mora was saying whenever he wasn’t wiping the drool off his face on Sunday.

  3. Raffi says:

    What I like most about Cam Newton is his ability to learn quickly (learned different offense at Florida, Blinn College, Auburn, and Carolina in four years) and his ability to handle all sorts of pressure that no 21-22 “amateur” athlete should have to deal with, concerning the ridiculous media scrutiny he went through at Auburn. No doubt about it, he’s got quite the arm, even if his accuracy isn’t consistent at this stage. I look forward to seeing him progress – he’s pretty exciting to watch.

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