Newton Emerging as a Unique Weapon as Panthers Surge over Niners

Cam Newton had very pedestrian statistics against a stout San Francisco 49′ers defensive team. He only completed half his attempts, only had 151 net passing yards, no TDs and a pick, and had only 17 yards rushing on 7 attempts.

A lot of credit must go to San Francisco’s defense for that, but Newton still showed he’s evolving into a unique style that no other NFL quarterback is capable of duplicating.

Cam made a number of key completions on 3rd down and would have had another if not for a Steve Smith drop in the first half. Even Smitty would tell you, I’m sure, that Cam couldn’t have thrown that ball any better. It bounced right off the “8″ on the front of his jersey; he simply never got his hands on the ball well and turned to look upfield too fast.

That’s water under the bridge now as a win is a win is a win, but the Panthers’ 10-9 win over the Super Bowl runners-up last year has the team believing.

The keys to victory were pretty obvious – run, stop the run, don’t turn it over and win the battle of field position. Carolina did three of the four extremely well while being even with the Niners in the turnover battle – two apiece – and the Panthers’ takeaways came at more key times…in the second half.

My friend Joey made a good point about that – he said “turnovers in the second half are harder to come back from.”

He’s right.

November 10, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) warms up on the sideline against the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter at Candlestick Park. The Panthers defeated the 49ers 10-9. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

You’ve got less time to “fix” things after a turnover in the second half, and Carolina’s second takeaway was a Drayton Florence pick to ice the game for the second consecutive week.

While the defense was completely shutting down the evil “Mirror Universe” twin of their offense, Cam Newton was tossing frozen ropes across the field…before his receivers even had begun to come out of their breaks.

I’ve noticed a certain pattern to a lot of Newton’s third-down throws in key times. He’s one of the best QBs in the NFL, if not THE best right now, at throwing the “deep out” pass.

A deep out pattern is just like it sounds – the receiver runs as if he’s going to run a post, go, or other very deep pattern but just as he turns it on to make the illusion believable, he breaks it off and heads to the sideline or rounds it off and loops around to the sideline, actually coming back in a “deep comeback” pattern.

Both patterns wind up doing the same thing. They fool the defender enough to shake him or at least make him fear a deep ball is coming, and know that Cam has the arm to do it so they have to respect it. Instead, Cam fires a frozen rope – often from the far hashmark – to an often wide-open receiver who is a yard or a few yards past the first-down marker.

It’s a throw he’s been making since college. I recall one play when Cam was at Auburn that announcer Gary Danielson, a former NFL QB himself, was incredulous about.

His voice went up about half an octave as he said “Ohhhh boy. He just threw a 30-yard deep-out….FLAT-FOOTED!”

Danielson continued to be in awe of the raw arm talent it takes to do that. While Cam’s flat-footed throws have continued into this season, the past month or so has seen “the light” come on and Cam is finally starting to realize he needs good footwork for his accuracy to be there.

November 10, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) warms up on the sideline against the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter at Candlestick Park. The Panthers defeated the 49ers 10-9. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

There were several key third down throws that Cam completed to move the chains on which were those “deep-out/comeback” style throws.

That seems to be well into Newton’s comfort zone by now as he has been throwing that pass more and more as the season progresses. A good coach/coordinator will eventually start running plays off of that concept, and that showed up actually with Smitty’s uncharacteristic drop I mentioned.

That pass was a mid-range slant pass over the middle – again, perfectly targeted – and the Panthers have another great target for this throw in the form of TE Greg Olson.

When you develop a “signature” play, defenses are going to plan for it and you need to have a second and third play, using the same formation and pre-snap look, that you can call so the defenders can’t sit on any particular route.

With Cam’s cannon and accurate throws, with proper footwork, he’s taking one of the toughest throws to make and refining his skill at making it.

The other half to this equation is developing the timing and rapport with the receivers so that the entire offense is on the same page. The offensive line knows about how long the pattern takes to develop so they know how long, at minimum, they need to engage the defender they’re responsible for.

Smitty, Olsen, Ted Ginn and Brandon LaFell are all on the same page with Cam on this route and it paid huge dividends against the Niners yesterday evening.

While San Francisco went 2-for-13 (15%) on third down conversions, the Panthers went 7-for-17 (41%) and at least three of those converted third downs were on that style of pass.

When he’s pressured or the throw isn’t there for whatever reason, he has the ability to escape the pocket and either check down or tuck and run…and no defensive back (and even some linebackers) is a match for Newton’s unique combination of size, speed, and power.

Big Ben has the size and strength Cam has but not the speed.

Colin Kaepernick has the size and speed, but not the power.

Those guys and few others can make that throw, but they don’t have the dual-threat capability that Newton brings to the table.

As such, look for more of the same in the near future.

It’s working.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

Topics: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, Panthers Over Niners

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  • ahrcshaw

    Good observation, Cam needs to see the blitz better and eliminate the sack. I was a little concerned during this game about Cam’s going back to staring down and keeping his eyes on the long ball instead of dropping it off short. Cam’s interception came about when he looked long left too long, turned his head right and threw from that left leaning position right to try to his Smitty and threw an interception. Go Panthers and pound those Patriots.

  • Panthernation Forlife

    Very good analysis. Cam has room to grow, but watching him become more mature this year is very refreshing.

  • Anthony Dunn

    Great piece Ken. You have hit upon something that has been overshadowed by insane defensive performances–Cam is getting better. You wrote a thorough piece about a month ago highlighting the main weakness we see in Cam’s game–his mechanics. It is clear he is making better decisions this year. He really hasn’t made dumb decisions, but just poor throws.

    Cam starts out jittery, which leads to his careless mechanics. Mike Shula can easily calm this down by getting Cam running one or two plays in the first quarter. He seems to shake the jitters if we set him up for a few successful plays in the 1st.

    Cam’s third down efficiency, as you noted, really shows he is maturing as a quarterback. When we played Tampa, there was a redzone play, where the line broke down and he went through his progressions and hit Olsent across the the body throw. I think this was the moment when I really started to believe that he could do it this season.