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Sir Newton

He set out to be an entertainer and an icon, and in his third season Cam Newton has delivered the Panthers to their first winning campaign since 2008. The NFC South crown could be theirs, depending on two meetings with the Saints in the next three weeks. As for the quarterback who fancies himself Superman, he could go even farther if he started emulating Drew Brees

By
Andy Benoit
· More from Andy·

Cam Newton has some attributes that can’t be taught: his 6-5, 245-pound size, his 4.6 speed, his lateral flexibility and his Colt 45 of an arm.

Drew Brees is a less striking physical specimen at 6-0, 210 pounds, but he has put together a Hall of Fame career by mastering the attributes that can be taught but are difficult to learn, such as pocket presence and precision accuracy. Acuity in those departments allows a QB to read the field, which Brees does as expertly as anyone who’s ever played the position.

Come Sunday night, these two quarterbacks will square off in the first of two meetings over the next three weeks that will likely decide the NFC South crown. Newton has guided the Panthers to an unexpected 9-3 record by relying heavily on his attributes that can’t be taught. His 447 rushing yards rank third among quarterbacks; his six rushing touchdowns are first. His powerful arm has converted 28 times on third-and-10-or-longer, fifth most in the NFL.

While Newton’s flash plays have helped guide Carolina to its first winning season since 2008, history shows that an offense will eventually fail to sustain its success if it’s too reliant on its quarterback’s flash plays. You might recall the Eagles with Randall Cunningham, the Cardinals with Jake Plummer or the Falcons with Michael Vick. Of course, Newton’s flash plays aren’t the sole driving force behind Carolina’s turnaround season. That would be the defense, which is allowing an NFL-low 13.1 points per game and ranks first against the pass, second against the run and has a league-leading 26 takeaways.

(Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMI)
Newton’s 447 rushing yards rank third among quarterbacks, and his six rushing TDs are first. But his game won’t reach its full potential until he develops a calmer pocket presence, better precision accuracy and greater anticipation in reading the field. (Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMI)

Even with a dominant defense, a good offense is essential to being a legit contender in today’s NFL. Carolina’s offense has potentially fatal flaws—a rushing attack that depends too much on deception and a front line that’s prone to protection breakdowns against quality bull-rushers—but Newton’s playmaking prowess has so far masked them. Titles aren’t won wearing masks, though. Carolina’s Super Bowl chances, now and in the coming years, hinge on its passing game. Though dangerous, the current passing game is too uneven. For that to change, Newton must become more like Brees.

Becoming more like Brees doesn’t mean discarding the sandlot skills that make Newton so unique. Rather, it means mastering those three critical attributes that can be difficult to learn: pocket presence, precision accuracy and reading the field. Newton is still at the 101 level in each subject.

Pocket presence entails having a feel for the pass rush and having the footwork to maneuver around it without sacrificing your readiness to throw. Newton has the toughness and Roethlisberger-esque strength to make plays from the pocket, even when encountering contact. But Carolina’s passing attack won’t routinely perform at a high level until he learns to avoid that contact altogether—without compromising the play design.

Overall, Newton must become more consistent with his footwork and throwing mechanics. On some series, he’s flawless. On others, he looks like he’s never been coached. This inconsistency is the main reason behind his poor precision accuracy—which is the ability to not just put the ball on a receiver, but to put it on him in ways that maximizes the catch. (Think of a pass hitting a crossing receiver in stride, allowing for yards after the catch, or a back-shoulder throw dragging a receiver away from tight coverage.) For someone with the arm to make any throw, Newton misses far too many.

Most of his “misses” show up as incompletions, but they also get hidden in underachieving completed passes. Newton is averaging just 7.15 yards per attempt, 15th among starting quarterbacks. In a system that features so many downfield and intermediate routes such as Carolina’s, he should be somewhere around 8.3 yards, which Brees is getting for New Orleans.

Precision accuracy isn’t the only factor in this equation. Brees maximizes his completions by also anticipating throwing windows before they open. It’s a hallmark of savvy field-reading. Newton, on the other hand, is a “see it passer,” meaning he has to actually see the open window before pulling the trigger. It’s hard to play like this in the NFL, but Newton’s arm strength can often make up for it. Still, opportunities are missed. The graphics below show just one of many examples from this season.

wk14newton.A

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Most disconcerting about Newton’s mistakes is how regularly they occur under perfect conditions (like the play above). And a lot of the mistakes are basic, yet repeated. To be fair, his repeating the same mistakes is becoming less frequent, but they’re still happening too often. If Newton is to be held to the highest standards—and shouldn’t a former No. 1 pick be judged so?—then he must develop better discipline.

This is his only chance at becoming a savvy field-reader, which is vital because there seems to be a blueprint for stopping him. The Panthers have faced six defenses that play straight 4-3 concepts on the majority of downs and use few blitz or coverage disguises. Against these teams—Seattle, the New York Giants, Minnesota, St. Louis, New England and Tampa Bay (twice)—Newton has completed 69% of his passes, thrown 15 touchdowns, three interceptions and taken just 11 sacks. His passer rating is 114.4.

The Panthers’ other five games have been against defenses that tend to use more hybrid concepts to dial up exotic pressures and coverage rotations. Against these teams—Buffalo, Arizona, Atlanta, Miami and San Francisco (which typically plays straight man-to-man but deviated against Carolina)—Newton’s numbers changed dramatically: 54% completion rate; four touchdowns; eight interceptions; 20 sacks and a 62.1 rating.

There are always exceptions to rules. Static defenses occasionally change looks and hybrid defenses can sometimes be predictable. But the sizeable statistical difference in these categories makes it irrefutable: Carolina’s self-proclaimed Superman isn’t so super against amorphous, largely 3-4-based, hybrid defenses.

Which brings us to the New Orleans Saints.

As galvanizing as coach Sean Payton’s return from his 2012 suspension has been, New Orleans’ rebound from last year’s miserable 7-9 finish can be attributed mainly to an improved defense. Even after last Monday night’s 34-7 thrashing in Seattle, the Saints (9-3) have gone from having one of the worst defenses in football to one of the best, according to just about every statistical measure. Most telling: They finished 31st in points allowed and 32nd in yards last season, but are now sixth and eighth, respectively. New coordinator Rob Ryan hasn’t been as variegated or aggressive with his scheme as people might think, but that could change on Sunday night given Newton’s track record. Ryan is as good as any at tailoring game plans for specific opponents.

newton-graphic-words800

Against Newton, this would mean using coverage rotations and amoeba pre-snap blitz looks so that what he sees after the snap is different from his initial assessment. With safeties Kenny Vaccaro, Malcom Jenkins and Roman Harper capable of playing multiple positions in New Orleans’ “big nickel” base defense, Ryan has great athletic diversity and speed with which to craft disguises. Though all three safeties are good blitzers, Ryan must be judicious with pressure concepts. Blitzes often require man coverage downfield, which is liable to create running lanes for Newton. Ryan’s best approach would be to show blitz before the snap, drop into a rotating zone coverage after the snap and trust that his ascending defensive linemen Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette can continue creating their own pressure with stunts and twists.

The Panthers know how important self-generated pressure can be for a defensive line. Carolina’s defense wouldn’t be the best in football (first in points allowed, second in yards allowed) if not for Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. The two defensive linemen have been dominant, particularly when playing side-by-side in nickel. A potent four-man pass rush, along with the dynamic speed and play recognition of linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, means the Panthers can prosper even with a ho-hum secondary that usually employs a fairly simplistic zone scheme. (That said, coach Ron Rivera and coordinator Sean McDermott have been adding more aggressive wrinkles with coverage rotations and safety blitzes in recent weeks.)

words tk (Chris Keane/Icon SMI :: Tom DiPace/AP)
Brees lacks Newton’s physical attributes, but his consistent mechanics—a weakness of Newton’s—have made the Saints QB a future Hall of Famer.  (Chris Keane/Icon SMI :: Tom DiPace/AP)

Carolina’s defense has thrived with a model that’s conducive to consistency, while New Orleans’ D has improved with a model that changes week-to-week and is inherently riskier. The Saints are comfortable with this because Brees gives them veritable offensive stability to fall back on.

It’s precisely what the Panthers need from their QB. Newton’s quarterbacking will never be exactly the same as Brees’s; they’re two completely different brands of players. But if Newton can strive to become like Brees, he’ll inevitably add dimensions to his game and correct the weaknesses that are capping his greatness. Newton must understand that it’s not a solitary process. He must embrace feedback from those around him—most notably Carolina’s highly regarded first-year quarterbacks coach, Ken Dorsey, and former QBs coach turned offensive coordinator, Mike Shula. Newton’s talent is boundless. His supporting cast is getting better. The Panthers organization, led by the football-savvy Jerry Richardson, is strong. The only person who can stop Newton from becoming an alltime great is Newton himself.

* * *

Believe it or not, Andy Benoit actually studied film for his quick preview of Thursday night’s Jaguars-Texans game. Prime time has never been hotter! Go to page 2 for the scoop on teams that have a combined five wins, plus one more on the way, assuming there isn’t a tie …

* * *

Credits for opening image, from top to bottom, left to right: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images (2) :: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMI :: Bob Leverone/AP :: Grant Halverson/Getty Images :: Mike McCann/AP :: Matt York/AP

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30 comments
Unforgiven_3
Unforgiven_3

Wow, this boy thinks he's Superman!!! More like Superdumbass as it's been his defense carrying him all year long! Looks more like a running back to me. Learn more about being a true QB!!!

mediamike77
mediamike77

Spot on! Especially with the 101 level stuff. Greg Cosell hits many of these points with these scramble guys as well.

MalevolentHobo
MalevolentHobo

Oh my.  This is just poor quality analysis, I'm sorry.  


"Most of his “misses” show up as incompletions, but they also get hidden in underachieving completed passes"


Yes, that is true of Cam Newton.  It is also true of every other quarterback in the history of the NFL.  And guess what?  Some of his perfect throws are "hidden" by receivers dropping the ball!


Newton is averaging just 7.15 yards per attempt, 15th among starting quarterbacks. In a system that features so many downfield and intermediate routes such as Carolina’s, he should be somewhere around 8.3 yards, which Brees is getting for New Orleans.


Does the author know that the Panthers have a new offensive?  Newton's yards per attempt have dropped from his first two years, because they are attempting fewer deep passes than in years past.  They have cut back on some of the flashy, high risk high reward plays in exchange for more consistency.  Fewer deep pass attempts and a sharper focus on short and intermediate routes that move the chains more consistently result in a lower YPA.  And to say "oh, his YPA should be around 8.3, just like Drew Brees" without offering any statistical evidence whatsoever is laughable.  Of course Drew Brees' YPA are higher - the Saints offense emphasizes the vertical attack more than any other team in the league!


I can't keep going, I'm actually getting angry at the absurdity of this article . . . ugh.

friendly--neighborhood--scrawler
friendly--neighborhood--scrawler

Cam is already a better QB than Brees and a lot of those so called Elite QB's... 


The only thing Brees has over Cam is Accuracy and better weapons... They play in two different offenses... Brees depends a lot of passing hence the numbers, Cam has yet to play with the offensive weapons other QB's have... A Megatron, Gronk, Graham... even Daulton has a better weapon in the likes of A.J Green... so if you want to compare QB compare all areas of the Game... the Panther is a ball control offense control the clock..... Brees , Manning and others like them depend on other teammates to block and be in the right place everytime to have ANY success on the football field.., they could Never take over the game on their own... if you get in the backfield guys like brees become. worthless, the Seahawks proved it. i have never seen a more odd looking footballball player than Brady when he gets flushed from the pocket... ask Ed Reed....lol.. i will never put my faith in one dementional QB'S if i need one drive under any circumstance.... give me a dual threat any day... The Brady's and Mannings have been successful over the years because of thier teammates but the get the lion share of the praise.... kaepernick against Greenbay showed how a QB can dominate a game... and Kaep, didn't need a defensive backs doing something stupid or a pocket with all day to throw.. he simply put his stamp on that game.... Brees , Manning and others only wish they could dominate a game on those levels... look at Manning against Brady a few weeks ago , the passing game was not working and he became useless on the field enough said... In a few years Cam will have the Weapons and people will see how the position can really be played. Look for Cam to be the better QB this Sunday, like he was when he played Brady...

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

Good write, but one dispute: any serious chance Cam has at becoming elite NFL QB (all college flash) requires his "discarding the sandlot skills that make (him) unique."  There is no in-between on this point (See; Vick & Tebow).  Cunningham & Young had their best years (98 / 95?) when they learned to love the pocket.

I'm impressed that Cam has kept scamper under control to this stage (447y), but if he reverts to those "sandlot skills" you praise, he'll never learn to absorb the hits a great passer must in order to hang-tite and find late-view receivers, never learn to read with proficiency and then fall back on fear-flight whenever it heats up.  It's a challenge and for now, seems to be meeting it.

But CN's got a coach who may understand this point, a run game (DW), nice WR-corps (OL can tighten) and Luke & Tom on D.  

zachdupont92
zachdupont92

Wasn't Drew brees benched for Doug flutie in his 3rd year in leauge for sucking so bad.... at this point in cams career he's doing great compaired to brees so who ever wrote this is a idiot

George
George

I think there would be a lot less "Cam-haters" if he would simply cool it a little on the showboating and worn-out "superman" bit.  

Imagine Brady, or Manning, Marino, Brees, Elway, ANYBODY else doing that - they would be crucified in the press and targeted for destruction by defenses.

But 2 things I'm sure of:  Cam has every right to do what he likes;  

and I'm positive he couldn't care less what anyone else thinks.

john15
john15

Too bad when this "superman" heard the call for"brain" he thought he heard"rain" and ran fo cover.Scam Newton is still just another "lappie" thief.

olansuddeth
olansuddeth

Not only is this article full of cherrypicking, but as per the usual with anything Newton-related, it can't help but take shots at him  personally.  "Self proclaimed Superman" - did I miss this quote?  He does the end zone thing, yes, but that's akin to calling Jimmy Graham a "self proclaimed NBA superstar" for his dunking of the football after a TD. 

Newton absolutely has a ways to go with reading the defense and improving his accuracy, but the guy is on a near historic pace so far... but until he's as good as a first ballot Hall of Famer, it won't be enough.

SamPotts
SamPotts

Horrible display of penmanship here.  Pretty easy to see that Andy is a Saints fan or just hates the panthers.  Either way my friend, watch out for the Riverboat Gambler coming your way.

HarrisNye
HarrisNye

Seriously what was Drew Brees doing in his third year in the NFL? Scoring touchdowns at a rate matched only by Dan Marino or being given up on by the team that drafted him? Pretty sure it was the latter. 

vg24
vg24

in his third year, Drew Brees' stats: 11 games, 2100 yds, 11 TDs, 15 INTs, 58% Comp, 5.9 yards per pass.


Cam this year? 12 games, 2600 yds, 19 TDs, 11 INTs, 62% Comp, 7.15 yards per pass. Oh, and 450 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns too.


Don't you have better things to write about than "he's good but not a hall of famer" articles?

CammieCam
CammieCam

"Newton is still at the 101 level in each subject"  Seriously Andy!  Should Newton also complain after he gets hit hard like Brees does to get flags...  Andy, "Ice Up Son!"

ElijahHorton
ElijahHorton

Whooooooooaaaaaaaaa, your work is usually much better than this, Andy. But this is abysmal cherry-picking at it's worst. First off, that Olsen throw, while ostensibly late, hit Olsen right in the chest and he dropped it. It's hilarious that of all the poor throws or decisions you choose to illustrate your point you selected probably one of the most impressive throws Cam has made the entire season even if it ended up incomplete.


Secondly, the exotic pressure packages had far less to do with Newton than they did with his offensive line. Watch the Arizona Cardinals game: early on, Cam was shredding them but was hurt by bad drops from his receivers. The Cardinals starting sending tons of pressure and the offensive line struggled to compensate, as Cam was constantly under pressure almost immediately on his dropbacks. His receivers also struggled to gain separation as the Arizona defenders started physically manhandling, so much so that Steve Smith blasted the refs afterward for their unwillingness to throw any illegal contact flags. Against Buffalo, the exact same thing occurred as right tackle Byron Bell was simply incapable of stopping Mario Williams from pressuring Cam repeatedly for four sacks. But, seriously, great job cherry-picking without context. Hell, you even failed to show where Cam struggled with the "standard" fronts that his stats look so gaudy on, such as the Patriots game where he was inconsistent in his reads to secondary receivers and had to resort to breaking the pocket instead (for big gains, however.)


As for his "yard per completion" rate of 7.15, you are completely wrong. His yards per completion is 11.5. His yards per ATTEMPT, however, is 7.15, which is a career low but reflective of the fact that he is challenging defenses far less downfield than anything having to do with poor ball placement. (Again, I thought you actually watched the film, right?) It's also league average, and considering the paucity of downfield threats for the Carolina offense, is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. The poor YAC number of Carolina receiver has far more to do with the fact that only one of their receivers is still capable of creating separation with pure speed, and that receiver is prone to dropping passes (Ted Ginn.) Neither a 34-year old Smith or LaFell are going to consistently elude defenders, which is why Cam's YAC numbers increase drastically throwing to the nimble Greg Olsen.


So, uh, yeah. . .I expected better. You so-called "film wonks" are really bad at cherry-picking your cases without much understanding of the underlying offensive schemes or personnel, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the poor quality of this article but. . .well, I am.

LawsonGordonBrannan
LawsonGordonBrannan

@friendly--neighborhood--scrawler Do I have your permission to print this out and hang it on my mancave wall?  A gentle remainder that the internet is full of morons?  On the night that Brees passes 50K yards, plus broke 2 NFL records, you are going to claim that a 3rd year QB with one winning season is better?  Child please!

George
George

@zachdupont92 It was worse than that.  In 2005 Brees was with the Chokers and the donkees destroyed his shoulder.  A lot of folks thought he might be DONE.  The chokers offered him a lousy deal so he went with the Aints and the rest is history.

Cam hasn't been through anything like that, other than when the donkees humiliated him  - http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap2000000092868/Miller-s-super-sack-on-Newton

and made him "kneel before Zod!"  http://sinfl.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/von-miller.jpg  and toke on Von Miller's pipe!

:D


ElijahHorton
ElijahHorton

@George Two words: DISCOUNT DAAAAAAABLE-CHECK!

(and yes, they are two words)

olansuddeth
olansuddeth

@john15 For the record, Newton did not steal a laptop.  He bought a stolen laptop.  Yes, he probably knew why it was at such a good price.  Good thing you never did anything stupid while you were in college.

Oh, wait.  You didn't go to college, did you?

ikunz34
ikunz34

@john15 haha. As a Panthers fan, I find it so funny how much people hate on Cam. If you do this to provoke other people, looking for fights on the internet, stop. Get out from behind your keyboard and stop hating on people that donate more money to charity than you will ever make in your life.

Domo141
Domo141

@ElijahHorton I couldn't have said it better myself. There are so many inconsistencies with this article, I have no choice but to believe that Andy Benoit is a Saints fan trying to give them a "pick me up" after they were just destroyed by a dominant defense. What annoyed me the most about this article was when he said "In a system that features so many downfield and intermediate routes such as Carolina’s....." The only thing I saw after that was blah blah blah blah blah. Mr. Benoit obviously hasn't been watching the Panthers this season. Maybe the Chudzinski-ran Panthers offense featured "so many downfield" routes, but not the conservative Mike Shula offense.  Panthers receivers have also been dropping a lot of deep balls lately. I can think of at least 3 examples off the top of my head within the last couple games where 50+ yard TD's have simply been dropped by Panthers receivers. Sure, Drew Brees is a way better QB than Cam right now, but this article nit picks on issues that Drew Brees hadn't even perfected during his 3rd year in the league. 

JasonRhodes
JasonRhodes

@ElijahHorton Well said, I will also add that the entire article is somewhat foolish, considering it is spent speaking of all the ways Cam is worse than Brees, comparing a 3rd year NFL QB that is clearly ascending, to Brees, who has been in the league 13 years. What did Brees accomplish by his 3rd season? 

friendly--neighborhood--scrawler
friendly--neighborhood--scrawler

Nice..... posting after a Panther lost clown....thats say a lot more about you as a person than my posting that you hate so much....

if you had Lafelle and steve smith with Oslen as you outlet and still improved every year in the league , you are better than anyone with an 0-line and weapons to throw to..ie Brees , ,Manning... Even Brady is in a better Situation... AND the Pats going 11-5 with Cassels as your Starter tells me all i need to know about the System Brady plays in.... Cam has done more with less offensive weapons than any of the top QB's... you are also forgetting Cam is the Panthers Best rusher for 3 straight years... How great would Brees be if he had to do as much for his team as Cam... anyone can be great sitting back in a pocket and playing catch with the likes of Jimmy Graham..

George
George

@ElijahHorton @George That DD-move of Rogers is nowhere NEAR as arrogant / obnoxious as that lame "Superman" bit  - not even close.  

JasonRhodes
JasonRhodes

@ikunz34 @john15 haters always acting as if a 19 year old in his first year in college getting in trouble defines his entire life and career "oh Cam is a cheater and a thief!!!" these constant hater  statements are so old and over used. I think people are allowed to make mistakes, learn from them, and become better people as a result. As a player, he is an absolute beast. As a citizen it appears as if he is charitable and kind.


DODGERFAIL2013
DODGERFAIL2013

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

feel free to tell us when the dream is over and you wake up.

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

@George @ElijahHorton How so? SOunds like a double standard to me.  The "championship belt" bit is every bit as "arrogant" as Superman, so not sure about your logic there buddy

HuyPham
HuyPham

I don't see where ppl can call him a cheater? Did he get free grades or they changed his grades

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