A rookie QB shouldn't come into the NFL and throw for 400 yards, let alone twice... this is something we already know about Cam Newton. We know he defies the odds, is able to stay cool under pressure and seems like a seasoned veteran in many aspects of his game. Unfortunately there's not really a good way to measure 'moxie', 'composure' or 'clutch-factor'... or is there?
As you know I'm utterly obsessed with this new QB rating formula over the last week. What I like about is so much is that you can apply it to any numbers and still generate valuable results. Unlike traditional QB ratings that require a certain number of attempts to work right, this passer rating can be used on any numbers, not matter how small. What I'm seeing from Cam Newton thus far is that he completely defies the odds. It's important to note that two games is a very small sample, but let me explain what I mean.
In almost all QBs I've looked at when it comes to situational stats three things seem clear:
- As a whole quarterbacks are at their best in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of games throughout their career, when they are neither easing into the game or trying to close it out.
- Quarterbacks play worse when playing from behind. This is in part due to pressure, and in part to teams running more pass coverage schemes.
- Quarterbacks' statistics drop in the last two minutes of a half as they force passes
Factor #1: QBs are best in the 2nd and 3rd quarter
This seems like it would make all the sense in the world. A player needs a little time to get warmed up throwing the football, and then in the 4th quarter they are either trying to win and game, or preserve a lead- both high stress situations. Newton bucks the trend:
Rating by quarter
What we see is that Cam doesn't need to get eased into the game, he comes out prepared and guns blazing (at least in these two games). Right now, I'm chalking it up to teams underestimating his ability so they get caught off guard, only to catchup in the middle of the game.
The 4th quarter number really jumps off the page. There are only three other QBs this season who have similar 4th quarter ratings- Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Newton is in rarefied company indeed.
Factor #2: QBs are worse playing from behind
It's only natural. When a defense is keyed in on what an offense has to do they'll sit back in zone and ask a QB to beat them with their arm. I'm not talking purely wins and losses here, but rather completions and moving the chains. What we see from the top QBs is they drop off, but not nearly as much as the mid-tier or low rated passers.
Rating by game situation
Panthers ahead: 0.53
Panthers tied: 15.87
Panthers behind: 9.08
Again, we see that Newton falls into the minority, rather than the majority. Care to know his company? Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. It's uncanny... while Newton is one of the worst QBs in the NFL when his team has a lead, he's absolutely on point and becomes one of the best when he needs to be.
Factor #3: QBs are at their worst in the final two minutes
The two minute drill... John Elway was made a legend based on how he executed during this time. In fact, he rates over 10.2 in two minute drills for his career- one of the highest ratings I've seen for a QB. Meanwhile, during his much maligned close to the New York Jets game Tony Romo posted a -59.14 when the game mattered.
Rating inside the 2 minute warning
Care to know who else sits around this number? Only Tom Brady comes close with a rating of 11.0, neither Aaron Rodgers (1.20) or Drew Brees (8.15) hold a candle to Cam Newton in this regard.
What does this tell us?
Right now, not a whole lot. It's still far too early in the season to draw large, overarching conclusions from two games worth of data. However, what we do see is that Cam Newton trends in the upper echelon of quarterbacks in several different areas, he just lets off the gas a little too much when his team is ahead. That will come with time, but for right now, two weeks in- it looks like we have something pretty special.