Contextualizing Cam Newton's numbers

Through two weeks numbers tell us Cam Newton is good... really good. Despite failing to be named rookie of the week in week one (for some inane reason that went to Randall Cobb) those who are analysts, not fans are saying Newton is far and away the best rookie from the 2011 class thus far, while some are going so far as to pencil him in for rookie of the year honors.

Personally, I refrain from using the term 'haters' when it comes to how athletes are viewed on the national stage. I feel it's used far too often and becomes the catch-cry used to be dismissive when someone brings up the legitimate shortcomings of an athlete. Cam Newton is by no means the perfect quarterback, his four interceptions in two games show us that. He is making, and will keep making the same mistakes all rookie QBs make as they transition from college into the NFL.

Despite how much I dislike the term 'haters' it's almost become apropos after looking at the reaction from the two fanbases we've played thus far, and also the national reaction to Cam Newton. People just seem to hate Cam Newton; they hate the success he's having, hate the success he had, hate when announcers praise him, and strike with a viper-like quickness to ensure everyone knows that despite his two 400+ passing games his team is still 0-2. 

This morning I'm not going to simply laud Cam Newton's ludicrous two week numbers, but attempt to give them some context and maybe dispel some rumors about Newton as a passer. We'll look at this...

After the jump

The Numbers

As it stands Cam Newton's statistics are absolutely insane. He's currently second in the NFL with 854 passing yards, he holds the rookie QB passing record in a debut and is one of only a handful of QBs to throw back-to-back 400 yard games. On the ground he's been impressive too... basically he's been as good as advertised, and better.

While it's certain that Newton can't keep up this breakneck pace all season, if somehow he did this is how his 2011 season would look: 

416/664 (62.6%), 6,832 yards, 24 TD, 32 INT- QB rating of 89.1...144 carries, 568 rushing yards, 16 rushing TDs

Cam Newton is going to throw interceptions... a lot of them. This is because he's not afraid to drive the ball down the field, and this is coupled with a rudimentary understanding of NFL secondary play. The last time we saw this was with Peyton Manning in 1998 who was also willing to throw deep and make the big play. That rookie year Manning threw for 26 TDs, but also 28 INTs- like Newton he was picked off a lot, but he never threw that many INTs again.

 

Myth #1: Newton is only doing this against bad defenses

It's hard to know where Sunday's opponent fits into this equation because the Packers have seen two pass heavy teams in the first and second weeks, but I guarantee allowing 400+ yards passing is the exception, not the rule for Green Bay.

Arizona is a slightly different beast. Everyone is willing to say the only reason Newton had the debut he did was because he was playing against a terrible secondary in AZ, yet the statistics don't support it. Rex Grossman and the Washington Redskins passed for 291 yards on Sunday, less than he completed against the New York Giants a week earlier. 

What we do know is this: Cam Newton is having greater success against these two teams than Drew Brees or Rex Grossman did from a pure YPA standpoint. Brees averaged 8.6 yards per attempt against the Packers, Newton averaged 9.4. Rex Grossman averaged 6.8 yards per attempt against the Cardinals, Newton averaged 11.4. He is performing well against these teams in relation to other QBs facing the same defenses.

 

Myth #2: The only reason Newton has good numbers is because the Panthers are throwing all the time

While the Carolina Panthers are throwing an inordinate amount of times based on their history, really Newton's attempts aren't wildly out of line. He currently ranks 4th in the NFL in pass attempts, and another seven QBs are within 10 attempts of Newton. However, the reason Cam Newton is 2nd in the NFL in passing yards is because of his YPA, the metric I mentioned above.

When it's all said I done I find YPA to be one of the best pure measures for a quarterback in terms of success. It doesn't reward inflated dink-and-dunk completion percentages, but rather gives us a metric in pure terms- "When this QB drops back how many yards does his team average?". In this way I liken in to my favorite RB metric, YPC (yards per carry).

While listening to 'Mike and Mike' this morning they said something that struck a chord, "Sam Bradford passes for a career high 331 yards in his team's loss to New York". I sat there are thought for a moment... Newton eclipsed that number twice already. Naysayers would counter by saying "But Cam Newton throws all the time... that's why". However, let's look at this number in context: 

Newton is averaging 41.5 pass attempts per game. Last year Bradford eclipsed that number on 5 different occasions. In those games where Bradford threw 42 times or more last year he averaged 227 yards passing... Newton is averaging 427 yards. Moreover, last night Bradford threw the exact same number of times as Newton did against Green Bay- 46, yet passed for 101 less yards; this is because of Cam's high YPA, he simply moves the ball better.

In the end this idea that Cam only passes for big yardage because of high pass attempts is yet another myth. He's passing for mammoth yards because he's making the most out of every pass attempt.

 

Myth #3: Newton keeps getting sacked because he has no perception of the pass rush

Currently Cam Newton is on pace to be sacked 64 times in his first season, which is a ludicrously large amount, but this is really more applicable to the 'Ben Roethlisberger effect' than anything else. This is where a large, strong QB naturally takes more sacks because of their willingness to stand in the pocket and get hit, rather than throw the ball away. When this is coupled with Newton trying to run and pick up yardage, but failing to reach the LoS it serves as a way to artificially increase his sack total. Roethlisberger has averaged 41 sacks a season on his career due to this phenomenon.

The funniest thing about Newton's sacks is that they're not even very costly. His 8 sacks have resulted in 47 lost yards, or 5.8 yards per sack. Here are the yards per sack for several other QBs: 

- Matt Ryan: 9 sacks for 58 yards (6.4 per sack)

- Eli Manning: 7 sacks for 47 yards (6.7 per sack)

- Jay Cutler: 11 sacks for 81 yards (7.3 per sack)

- Sam Bradford: 6 sacks for 45 yards (7.5 per sack)

Simply put: Newton is getting sacked a lot, but it's not really costing the Panthers very much in field position when it occurs.

 

After this, what do we make of Cam?

This article doesn't serve to call the rest of the NFL 'haters', or place us as cheerleaders for Cam Newton. Rather, it aims to give some perspective on the games he's played thus far. Fans of the Carolina Panthers aren't willing to retire his jersey, or send his rookie cleats to Canton, but as a whole it seems Newton isn't getting the respect he deserves as an NFL QB. 

Everyone is looking for reasons to justify Newton's performance thus far, but maybe we need to take a page out of Occam's book and realize that maybe the answer is simple- he is a really good quarterback.

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