No, I'm not referring to the lofty expectations placed on a 23 year-old's shoulders, or the epic original song that was plagiarized by Vanilla Ice, rather we're taking a look at Newton's rookie season and how well he did when the heat was on.
There's a widespread assumption that Newton was under duress for a lot of the 2011 season, and on the surface it's easy to see why. Cam is a busy player in the pocket. He's consistently moving around, looking for angles, and trying to throw from the best base possible. This leads to the pass protection looking far weaker than it is, as it's hard to differentiate between when Cam had to move, and when he didn't. That's not a knock on the quarterback, he should be busy in the pocket, but it's as aspect to his game that we have to take into account moving forward.
Our friends at Football Outsiders delved into the metrics of 2011 pass pressure to take a look at which QBs were best with a rusher in their face. The results are very encouraging, especially given Newton was a rookie QB.
As a team the Carolina Panthers ranked 20th in pressure allowed. Newton saw legitimate pass pressure on 22.5% of passing downs, which was less than Ben Roethlisberger or Michael Vick, but more than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, or Drew Brees. We can now bury the argument that Newton had terrible pass protection last year. No, they weren't elite-- but even with a UDFA right tackle they managed to stay close to the top third of the league.
However, pressure allowed is the most boring part of the puzzle, and we'll see why Newton was exciting after the jump.
It's here our old friend DVOA sticks its head back in the discussion. This metric for 'Defense adjusted Value Over Average' normalizes offensive performance when compared to equivalent defenses, and when cross-referenced across the league gives us a truly fair basis for evaluation.Obviously every QB's performance will drop when under pressure vs. having a clean pocket, that's just logic. Impressive gains on broken plays are nice, but they're the exception to the rule.
Cam Newton's DVOA differential was -106.2%, which sounds terrible until you realize this is good enough for 10th in the NFL. When pressured Newton was one of the top-ten QBs in the league, where his plays dropped from 7.8 yards average, to 4.3 yards.
The QB in the league who faired the best under pressure? Josh Freeman, who saw just a 65.3% drop.
Newton joins rare company with Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, and Drew Brees, all of whom were top-ten in dealing with pressure. Other elite QBs who didn't rank high were Aaron Rodgers (27th), Tom Brady (14th), and Philip Rivers (23rd).
From what we saw early in training camp the offensive line looks improves from 2011, and the additions of Amini Silatolu, coupled with Byron Bell's improvement should provide better protection for Cam. However, it's certainly nice to see how well he performed with defensive players rushing him, and it's that pocket presence that will serve him well as his career continues.