The struggle to find consistency has been the battle Cam Newton has waged throughout his career. While his anticipation skills as a passer have steadily improved over the last couple of seasons, he is still, by and large, a quarterback that has to see his receiver break open to throw it. He likes to go for big chunks of yards at a time instead of settling for the shorter, safer passes. This style of play is heavily reliant on talent, which Newton has gobs of. But it’s a style of play that leads to lots of peaks and valleys on offense.
Take the last few weeks, for example. The Panthers fell behind 17-0 in a Week 6 loss to the Redskins and scored only 9 points through the first three-and-a-half quarters. The following week, they were shutout for three quarters before quickly scoring 21 points in the final fifteen minutes to steal a win from the defending champion Eagles. Then, just last week against the Ravens, the Panthers took it to the best defense in the NFL in a laugher.
In that game against the Ravens, Newton was on the money. He made several big-time throws throughout the afternoon. Check out his first touchdown pass of the game below.
That’s not exactly bad coverage. But Newton fit that ball in there perfectly like few quarterbacks can.
Later in the game, the Panthers were backed up in the shadow of their own goal posts. Watch this throw by Newton.
It takes stones to make that throw. Newton stood in the back of his own end zone, calmly scanned the field, and made a perfect throw in the seam 35 yards downfield. He was not spooked by the Ravens showing pressure at the snap, or the fact that his feet were about two yards from the back of the end zone. He was not thrown off by the coverage disguise. He simply read the defense as it rotated to a cover-3 zone look and threw in the seam away from the rotation. The ease with which he made that downfield throw is not something you see every day across the NFL. When all the elements of this play are considered, this was close to being as impressive of a pass as you’ll see any quarterback make.
There were also a few puzzling throws. Just two plays later, Newton inexplicably missed an easy check down that could have gone for a big play.
You could probably pin this on Newton’s feet, which didn’t move with his eyes when he finally decided to throw the ball in Christian McCaffrey’s direction. Those are the types of throws you have to be able to make every time in order to keep the offense on schedule and out of unmanageable 3rd downs. This particular play looked like it had the potential to be a big play as well.
The Panthers are built to have a sustaining element on offense with their running game. They have never finished worse than 11th in the NFL in rushing during the Cam Newton era. Newton is a huge part of that. You would think the Panthers would be able to avoid having so many peaks and valleys as an offense with such a successful running game.
The truth is, their running game operates similar to their passing game – it is set up for big plays. The Panthers like to use lots of zone reads, reverses and end-arounds. Newton scrambling on called passes is also a big component. These plays have home-run potential, but they also lead to some negative plays that can completely thwart drives.
All that being said, the consistency of this offense is more dependent on Newton’s play than anything else. The more he refines his game, the more consistent the Panthers will be. To Newton’s credit, he has done that. For instance, he is a career sub-60% completion rate passer who is completing a career-high 66.4% of his passes this season.
While there is still room for improvement, Newton’s play has helped put the 5-2 Panthers right in the thick of the NFC South division race. Carolina is one of the better teams in the league that no one is really talking about right now.