Why Cam Newton is struggling: Q&A with Greg Cosell

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton drops back to pass the ball against the New York Giants...

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton drops back to pass the ball against the New York Giants during a NFL football game in Charlotte, North Carolina September 20, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Keane

John Kryk, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:56 PM ET

Everybody wants to know – what’s wrong with Cam Newton this year?

His Carolina Panthers had playoff aspirations, after Newton’s historically prolific rookie season in 2011. But both quarterback and team have struggled in 2012.

Carolina is 1-6 entering Sunday’s game at Washington, where Newton goes head-to-head against this year’s rookie dual-threat phenom quarterback – Robert Griffin III.

While Newton is on pace to amass about the same amount of passing and rushing yards, his touchdown totals and efficiency are down drastically.

So what’s up?

We asked Greg Cosell to weigh in. As a producer with NFL Films and ESPN’s NFL Matchup, Cosell pores over more game tape each week than coaches. He’s one of the most respected observers of the game’s finer points.

In an interview with QMI Agency, Cosell explained that the Panthers’ woes on offence aren’t all on Cam – by a longshot.

Newton’s head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski changed what had been working so well last year.

Game tape reveals to Cosell that the Panthers implemented an offence predicated on the college-style ‘zone-read’ option running game, in which Newton stands in the shotgun and reads defenders, to decide whether to hand off to a back or keep the ball and run it himself.

In this Q&A, Cosell explains:

 

Why has Newton struggled in Year 2?

First and foremost, much of it stems from the fact that we all are so quick to praise – particularly young quarterbacks. It’s unrealistic. But it’s what we do. ‘Oh, Robert Griffin, he’s going to be great. Ohhh, Andrew Luck.'

Hey, those guys will go through struggles, too. And people will be shocked and amazed that they’re actually struggling.

I think with Cam Newton and the Panthers there’s a lot more to it. And this is just my opinion, but I think what they made a conscious choice – I’m sure in the off-season – to become an option-deception offence.

He has been in shotgun an awful lot. Their run game is built on the read-option, and on option elements.

 

Last year too, or just this year?

This year.

 

Why change it? The Panthers’ offence last year was dynamic.

Well, I’m sure they felt that Newton was their best runner – right or wrong. And therefore they felt putting him in the option, with all the backfield action and deception, would be a real positive.

And I think what’s happened is they don’t have a base NFL run game – where they line up with Newton under centre and hand the ball to (DeAngelo) Williams or (Jonathan) Stewart.

We did some numbers a couple of weeks ago, and only about 20-25% of Williams’ and Stewart’s runs were with Newton under centre. It’s hard to play like that in the NFL. This is not college football.

You also don’t get backs into any kind of groove, because essentially a back never knows if he’s going to get the ball, because it’s an option: Newton may give it to him, or he may not.

 

Didn’t they have those read-option plays last year?

They used them, but nowhere near to the degree that they’ve used them this year.

 

Why didn’t Carolina change back to last year’s offence, once it became clear the new one wasn’t working as well?

Well, they finally started to (last Sunday) against Chicago. They had more runs with Newton under centre against Chicago than they’ve had in any week this season. And while the success was erratic they stayed with it, and I’ll be anxious to see if they stay with it.

I think that Carolina may be starting to make a transition to more of a pro offence, with the option-deception element being more of an offshoot, as opposed to the foundation.

 

On Newton’s play overall this season

I don’t think Newton, quite frankly, has played as badly as people think … He’s missed a few throws badly that get shown on TV all the time, that get magnified. I thought he played pretty well against Chicago, actually.

His big problem – and if it doesn’t change he’ll never become elite – but his big problem is he’s a little too scattershot. He misses too many throws that are there, that you have to make.

 

Just in clutch situations?

That’s just the way he is. He’s erratic with his accuracy, whether it’s the first quarter or the fourth quarter. Everything looks magnified late in games.

 

On whether defences have figured Cam Newton out now in Year 2

I struggle with that concept. Because very few quarterbacks, including the Hall of Famers, are great at everything.

Everybody knows what everybody is. The question then becomes execution on a consistent basis, play after play, and (knowing) pass-game concepts in given situations.

So at the end of the day if Cam Newton was a really accurate passer, he’d be playing better and no one would say any of this. He’s missing too many throws, however. It’s not because the defences have figured him out. He’s missing open throws.

How come defences haven’t ‘figured out’ Tom Brady? Tom Brady can’t do a couple of things really well, but it hasn’t prevented him from being pretty good.

 

john.kryk@sunmedia.ca

@JohnKryk

blogs.canoe.ca/krykslants/


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