Anatomy of a play: Cam Newton and Steve Smith

The same play run twice had very different results.

Everyone's trying to work out what the problem is with Cam Newton. Is the issue with trust, his confidence, or the offensive coordinator? It's a problem with all three, making it a difficult issue to diagnose. Today we take a look at a single play, run in back-to-back games with a completely different result.

This could be the most conclusive evidence to try and decode what is happening with the offense. Colin Hoggard of WFNZ (@ColinWFNZ) posted this photo to his Twitter account that shows the same basic play against the New York Giants, then again against the Arizona Cardinals. The result couldn't be more polarizing as Brandon LaFell caught a touchdown against the Giants, while Newton threw an interception coming out of the bye.


This should be an easy back shoulder touchdown to LaFell if run correctly, which is what happened in the first three frames. He's a great matchup against a slot cornerback and threats in the center of the field freeze the safety. LaFell establishes outside position and it's a simple touchdown.

The first mistake against the Cardinals comes in field position. The five yards of extra position compacts the field, causing the outside corner to be routed into double coverage on LaFell. The Panthers' receiver still has position and this is where the ball should have been thrown, but it becomes a less reliable play when two defensive backs are in the vicinity.

A bigger question is trust, and is something we can't answer. There are times it looks like Cam Newton doesn't trust his receivers, but it's a two way street. Look at the third frame, the ball is in the air and Steve Smith is already complaining about Cam's decision. Forget that this resulted in a touchdown, Smith wanted the ball -- and it's 89's way or the highway.

In this instance Newton made the right decision. A good throw would have resulted in a touchdown either way, but threading the ball to Smith is a far more difficult throw than lofting it to a wide open LaFell.

There's a larger discussion to be had about Smith's role in the offense and whether Newton is succumbing to the pressure of keeping an outspoken veteran wide receiver happy. Smith is great at accepting blame in the postmortem, but his reaction to the LaFell pass is far more damaging to the team than his two drops against the Cardinals.

Mike Shula calls the same play against the Arizona Cardinals. This time the coverage is more compact, but a lofted pass to LaFell would have been the right call. Instead Newton tries to thread it to Smith, and is picked off by the lurking linebacker.

Did Cam throw this pass because he thought it was the best one, or did he throw it because Smith complains when he doesn't get the ball? The former means Newton needs to go back to the tape and learn from his mistake, the latter is a far bigger issue and could justify parting ways with the veteran receiver.

Smith is unquestionably Newton's best weapon, but neither this team or Cam can improve if he's pressuring his quarterback to feed him the ball.

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