“Nobody has ever been who I’m trying to be.” This is how Cam Newton describes himself as a quarterback. The Panthers clearly feel the same way, recently locking him up with a 5-year $100+ million contract extension. But before Newton becomes someone no one has ever been, he needs to fix a few fundamental aspects of his game.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Cam Newton is not a precise player. As physically gifted as he is, his style of quarterbacking is inconsistent, as we’ll show on the below plays.
First, he has the arm talent to make throws that no other player can make, like this missile into a space the size of a football. First, look at the great job he did at holding the safety backside to open up the seam route.
Then he fired the ball 35+ yards on a line into just about the only place his receiver could get it.
Not an easy throw. Nor is it one that any other quarterback is capable of making (maybe Aaron Rodgers).
Just a few plays later, though, he threw a terrible pick-6. He was late with the throw and didn’t see safety Kam Chancellor clearly in position to jump on any pass to the flat. This was an unnecessarily risky throw.
This interception was in the NFC Divisional Playoff against Seattle, and it all but ended the game as well as Carolina’s season. Cam Newton’s performance on that night was a microcosm of who he is. Some great throws mixed in with some head-scratchers.
Below is another great example of this. Here, the Panthers dialed up a play specifically to beat Cover-3, a coverage the Seahawks play the majority of the time. Carolina got exactly the look they wanted.
The route combination was designed to attack the cover-3 corner to the right side, Richard Sherman. Tight End Greg Olsen ran a seam route from a flexed position. Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery ran what appeared to be a quick out route. With Richard Sherman only seeing one vertical route coming in his direction (Olsen’s seam route), he cheated inside towards him.
But Cotchery was actually running a wheel route, designed to attack the area vacated by Sherman.
The Panthers had a big play in the works. It doesn’t get more wide open than this in the NFL, especially against a team like the Seahawks.
But Newton missed the throw badly, putting the ball over Cotchery’s back shoulder out of bounds.
At the NFL level, physical talent can only take you so far. You can’t just drop back and wing it. You can’t just try to make a play. You have to be able to function within the design of an offense. You have to able to function within each week’s game-plan. You have to be able to execute on plays that have been expertly designed by your coaches to take advantage of an opponent’s vulnerabilities. Cam has not shown the ability to do so with consistency.
Throws like the one shown above have to be hit if you’re trying to be something no one else has. These are the throws you have to hit if you’re going to beat good defenses and win a championship. And this wasn’t a one-time occurrence, by the way. In fact, heading into this game against the Seahawks, we wrote how Newton missed similar throws against Arizona the week before and needed to be able to connect when the perfect call was dialed up.
Cam Newton wasn’t lying when he claimed he has a combination of speed, power, and arm talent that we haven’t seen before. Those attributes mean that he doesn’t have to become quite like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady to be great. He doesn’t have to be able to surgically dissect the defense on every single play in order to be effective.
However, he does need to become more technically sound. He does need to better grasp the mental aspects of playing the position. This is especially true when you consider how many hits he takes because of his style of play. Many of those hits occur when he runs the ball. Still, too many hits occur because he is often too late getting rid of the ball from the pocket. Much of that has to do with playing outside of the basic framework of the offense’s design.
One can’t help but wonder when injuries and the overall breaking down of his physical talents will catch up to Newton. When they do, if he can’t play the position with more precision from the pocket, his decline will be fast and steep. And he won’t become anything near what nobody else has been.