One of the most heated debates in football year in and year out revolves around the Quarterback position. “This guys better than that guy”, “This young Quarterback has reached elite status but this one hasn’t”, “This guy hasn’t been dealt as good of a hand as this one”. The debates go on an on (and will continue to do so), but for some reason Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton is often overlooked. Against the Bears Newton displayed traits that should have him in the discussion as one of the great young Quarterbacks in the league. With the help of the coaches film I would like to highlight five of these.
1. Lower Body Technique
One of the areas where Newton has made noticeable strides is his technique in the pocket, especially in regards to his lower body. When he came into the league Newton’s lower half would be sloppy and slow. He wouldn’t step into throws, didn’t adjust to his target and would often just ignore his lower body in general. Since that time though, Newton has cleaned up his technique allowing him to be more accurate as a passer.
This is Newton’s first throw of the game. He does a good job squaring his lower half to his target, and stepping into his throw.
His technique allows him to put touch on the ball, and throw a soft pass that Cotchery is able to make a relatively easy sideline catch on. In the past, Newton would have looked to just fire the ball in there and convert the down. He’s grown to trust his feet and technique in the pocket, which has resulted in him developing into a Quarterback who can elevate the players around him.
While this is an area where Newton has made great strides, it’s also an area where he could continue to be more consistent…
Here we’ll see a play where the technique isn’t so strong. He’s got a clean pocket and Tight End Greg Olsen, is coming open on the in-route. Instead of planting his feet and stepping into his throw, he decides to gun the ball in there with only his upper half.
Unsurprisingly, Newton puts the ball too far out in front of his TE, and the play is incomplete. A better technical throw and this is likely a completion that moves the chains.
Late in the first half on a critical drive, we see the young QB with much better footwork again.
Newton plants and steps into his throw instead of relying on his upper body. He’s able to snap his lower half to the target, which allows him to drive the ball more accurately to the intended receiver.
The result is an easy catch for Wide Receiver Jason Avant, who finds a hole in the middle of the Bears Zone for a 20 yard gain.
2. Ball Placement
Newton has also made improvements in his ball placement. He’s become better at putting touch on the ball to make for an easier catch, as well as locating the ball where his receiver can make a safe catch. This is one of the finer points of Quarterbacking, and is another big sign in how much Newton has already developed as a passer.
On Newton’s Touchdown to Olsen at the end of the first half, we’ll see the QB utilize excellent ball placement. Once again we’ll see it all starts with the technique in the pocket, Newton is standing tall, his hips are square to the target, and he’s transitioning off his plant as he steps into his throw.
The Safety breaks late, but if the ball is thrown inside of Olsen he’s probably got a chance to make a play.
Recognizing the high Safety inside of Olsen, Newton places the ball outside and trusts his TE to make the play. Olsen rewards him with a good extension catch for the TD to pull within seven of the Bears going into the half. This play would be one of the turning points of the game in which the Panthers would come back from being down 14 to win 31-24.
On this pass Newton does an excellent job leading rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin away from the Defender. He places the ball over Benjamin’s outside shoulder, meaning if Kelvin doesn’t catch it, nobody will. Benjamin is unable to locate the ball, but it’s still a great throw by Newton.
3. Keeping Eyes Down Field While Moving the Pocket
Another area where Newton has continued to improve is maintaining his eye level down field while scrambling our of the pocket, or climbing up it. This has been vital to his success in 2014 as he’s battling an ankle injury that has limited his ability to make plays with his legs. On Sunday against the Bears, Newton demonstrated this ability during the first quarter, on a play that nearly moved the sticks. Even though the receiver ultimately dropped the pass, it’s worth pointing out Newton’s play.
The pockets closing and the play hasn’t opened up yet. There’s a lane where Newton could get a few yards if he wants, but with third and long & a bad wheel the QB is going to look to make the play with his arm.
He climbs up into the lane in the pocket, but continues to keep his eyes down field looking for a target.
The Defenders close the gap, but his scrambling has bought time to free up Jason Avant right at the sticks. Newton sees him and zeros in on his target. He loads and releases the ball under immense pressure.
He’s able to make an incredibly difficult throw across his body. The throw is on the money, giving Avant a chance to get down and making the catch while shielding himself. Unfortunately Avant lets the ball bounce off of him and the Panthers are forced to punt.
4. Throwing the Ball Into Tight Windows
Newton has only thrown one interception this season. Without studying each game, somebody may draw the conclusion that he hasn’t taken chances as a QB. The truth couldn’t be any further from that. Newton has displayed excellent confidence in his ability, “threading the needle” on multiple occasions to give his team a chance.
On this play Newton will fire in a ball to Benjamin in traffic. Not only is the coverage on Benjamin tight, but the window at the LoS is also small as the blitzing Linebacker is filling the lane. Newton is able to place the pass right in Benjamin’s body, but the rookie drops it.
In what became a trend against the Bears, Newton once again drops a dime on the rookie and Benjamin isn’t able to finish the play. Newton is pressured from his blind side as well as up the middle, but stands tall in the pocket and fires a dart. The window is tight, but Newton is able to drop the ball right into Benjamin’s hands. Before Benjamin can fully secure the catch fellow rookie Kyle Fuller is able to slap the ball out.
A look at the still image from the broadcast shows us just how easy Newton made this for Benjamin….
5. Looking Off Defenders
The last area I want to highlight is the improvements Newton has made with his eyes. While he can still lock onto a target at times (like all Quarterbacks), Newton has gotten much better at going through progressions on plays. More importantly, the young QB has developed the ability to fool the Defender with his eyes to open the play up.
On this play, Newton will bait the Defender with his eyes. The Safety will stay to the outside of the field, even taking a false step as he eyes Newton. By the time Olsen breaks inside the Defender is already out of the play. Newton’s able to snap back and fire a strike to his TE.
As Newton pulls the football out on his play fake he switches his eyes to the left side of the field where Kelvin Benjamin is. Notice the Safety at the bottom right of the screen, he’s reading Newton’s eyes and shading to his right.
As Olsen breaks inside the Safety tries to recover but his false step has taken him out of position to make the play. Newton locates his TE and loads up.
Newton is able to snap his body back to Olsen, and fire a strike to the TE. The intermediate middle of the field has been vacated thanks in part to Newton’s eyes, and Olsen is able to secure the ball for the game winning Touchdown. Newton actually had two potential scoring options thanks to the middle being vacated, as fellow TE Brandon Williams was coming open from the other side on an identical route.
While young signal callers Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick are often spot lighted by the media, Newton has become the forgotten face. Quietly, Newton has turned into a top-tier Quarterback in his own right, especially in 2014 as he’s been forced to make more plays from the pocket. As his ankle steadily heals, a critical point in Newton’s continuing maturation is approaching. Will he opt to scramble more often, or will he continue to look to make plays with his arm? The answer to that question could be the determining factor of his development into either an elite passer, or just a great one.
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