Inside the numbers: Cam Newton's game on Saturday

Around the NFL people are trying to make sense of Cam Newton's game on Saturday. Other team's fans are struggling with the idea that analysts are giving Newton praise for his game, yet they see a box score where he only completed 42% of his passes. There are mature fans who are inquisitive about the perception vs. reality, and the immature ones who made their decision about Newton months ago and will yell, scream and hold their breath until they are validated.

It's the former, the mature fans, who I look to address today and also give our fan base an understanding of Newton's passing numbers in context. A common criticism I've heard is that people intuit that Newton was playing against the Giants' second team for the entire game, but this simply wasn't the case. There was a definitive series during the second quarter where both the Panthers and Giants began to sit their starters. I've divided up Newton's game down this line and look forward to sharing it with you now.

More after the jump

Cam with the Panthers' 1st team vs. the Giants 1st team

3/7 (43%), 52 yards (68.75 QB rating)

- On paper, this stat line looks mediocre, but here is the time we need to get inside the numbers. Two of Cam's four incompletions came in one series in the red zone where Newton fired passes to WR Brandon LaFell. The first of which the Giants DB made an excellent play on the ball and batted it down, the second of which hit LaFell's hands, but he couldn't reign it in. On both occasions these were good throws and Newton squeezed the ball into a tight window. Another incompletion came on what amounted to a throw away when Newton way backed up and threw the ball about 10 yards shy of Legedu Naanee, and the last one was an overthrow to Greg Olsen. Of these 7 pass attempts there were only two that should have been better, the pass to Olsen and the trow away which he should have sent into the stands rather than putting it up and hoping someone would get the ball. 

In the end I would grade five of these seven attempts positively, and the negative plays didn't impact the game too much.

 

Cam with the Panthers' 2nd team vs. the Giants' 2nd and 3rd team

5/12 (42%), 74 yards (62.5 QB rating)

- This is the phase of the game where Cam got a little more sloppy and began throwing off his back foot more as a response to the pressure he was seeing. Simply put, the 2nd and 3rd string OL couldn't really protect Cam and I counted 5 QB hurries on these 12 pass attempts. Any time you're over 30% of hurried plays it shows the OL is letting the offense down, and Cam saw 42% of his passing snaps being pressured. Newton isn't without responsibility here because he will need to adapt to the pressure better, but this was also his first NFL start and I believe he was given the message to avoid running at any costs. We've seen this in practice and I think the coaching staff are asking him to force passes before looking to run. It's my belief that when the regular season comes along he'll be given more freedom to run when needed, and that will open everything up.

 

Summary

The moral of this story is that if you're trying to understand why Newton looked promising even with a low completion percentage then keep in mind that first phase of the game with the Panthers' starters. He played very well despite not having Steve Smith at WR and the right side of the line being very shaky without Geoff Schwartz at RG. The assertion that he was only playing against backups is wrong, in fact, he did better against the 1st team than he did against the 2nd and 3rd teams. 

Cam Newton is still a work in progress, but the poise he displayed, coupled with his ability as a pocket passer gives Panthers fans cause to be excited for the future, at least for now.

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