A running quarterback has a natural proclivity towards escaping the pocket and scrambling, rather than sticking it out and looking for the open man, or so the stereotype goes.
Cam Newton is not only an exception to that dated school of thought, he is often its antithesis.
It is a funny thought, Cam Newton, the Panthers leading rusher on the season, is often hesitant to flee the pocket and break the play. In the the long run, I think this is a good trait; Newton is far more likely to find a bigger, or better play by staying in the pocket, than he is dodging linebackers at the line of scrimmage. This is also a sign of maturity, and discipline: Cam isn't frightened by blitzers (even when he should be; c'est la vie), and he has shown a willingness to stay in the pocket and follow through with ex-OC Rob Chudzinski's plays, rather than breaking off and running free-bird, a la Mike Vick, circa 2003.
Note that this isn't a green light to hold on to the football. For much of the year Cam struggled with holding on to the ball for too long, resulting in coverage sacks.
At times Newton needs to realize that he is the Panthers' most potent offensive weapon. Football is the ultimate team sport, but that doesn't always circumscribe a player to playing exclusively by the system. In key situations the ball needs to be in the hands of an offenses' playmaker, which in our case, is Cam Newton.
Far too often during the 2012 campaign, the Panthers Offense would back itself into unfavorable third down scenarios, leaving little to doubt about the Panthers play call, and exposing the offensive line to blitzes.
With more unfavorable offensive down and distance scenarios, the Panthers Offense stalled out.
Over the course of the season, the Panthers faced a multitude of coverages, varying from team to team, from situation to situation. One such coverage is man coverage, with a safety or two playing the deep part of the field, hence the name, man-high coverage.
Particularly, man-high coverage is applicable in passing down and distances, or against a team with a respectable deep passing game. However it leaves the defense extremely vulnerable to a draw or scrambling quarterback. The DB's are almost all focused on the WR's, with their backs to the QB, the only players facing the QB 20-30 yards downfield. Typically, the defense will leave one LB to cover the checkdown, while the other can blitz, or play underneath the TE. Conceivably, the defense can/will leave a spy on a mobile QB (i.e. NYG, Denver, or Seattle against the Panthers this season).
However, there were too many situations in which the defense would play some sort of man-high coverage against the Panthers. Neither attempting to contain Newton, or leave a spy on him. Frankly it was a little insulting, and ignorant by the opposing DC. Cam Newton is one of the premier mobile quarterbacks in the NFL, and if defenses don't respect him as such, they should be made to pay.
If the play isn't there, and the defense is aligned in a high coverage, Newton should seriously consider scrambling. By scrambling, Newton forces the defense into more zone looks, which could open up the door for the passing game. The Panthers should be hoping for man-high coverage, begging for it even, not tentatively probing it.
Here is a positive example against Oakland, Week 16. The Panthers have found themselves in third down and long (3rd & 7+). Oakland responds by rushing four and dropping seven.
Lamarr Houston beats Byron Bell to the edge, forcing Newton to stand up into the pocket. On the move, Newton doesn't have the time to set up a mechanically sound throw, making an attempt to Olsen a risky proposition. Cam breaks the pocket and takes off.
With the coverage stretched out, nobody is in an immediate position to make a play on Newton. Consequentially, Cam picks up a gain of 29 yards, moving the chains, and putting the Panthers in Oakland territory.
Here is another successful example; Week 11 versus Tampa Bay.
The Panthers are in mired in third down and long. It appears that Buccaneers are playing a deep Man-2 under coverage, with the outside CB's in man coverage, and two safeties over top. The coverage is solid; Newton doesn't have an open receiver.
Cam waits it out at first, however Jordan Gross is beaten to the edge, once again causing Newton to step up into the pocket. The deep nature of the routes and the coverage leaves the middle of the field vacant, prompting Newton to run.
Cam breaks the pocket and makes it nearly fifteen yards before encountering a Buccaneer. Newton jukes Mark Barron out of his shoes, and then makes it to the Tampa 40 yard line for a gain of 16, a Panthers first down.
Now take a look at a prime example of Newton passing up an opportunity to run.
In this Week 4 example against Atlanta, the Panthers are once again bogged down in third down and long.
Atlanta is playing a deep zone coverage, with the free safety some 35 yards off of the LOS. There are some tight windows that Newton could force a pass into, however a crumbling pocket prohibits a downfield pass.
Newton veers off towards the right side of the field (his right), but instead of hitting the relatively gigantic hole in the middle of the field, Newton attempts an off-balance pass to his checkdown, Mike Tolbert. The pass is behind Tolbert, and would have been a nearly impossible grab had he been uncovered. If Cam keeps the ball and breaks the pocket, either down the middle of the field or to the side, he has a much better chance of picking up the requisite 8-9 yards for the first down.
The Panthers Offense is by no means perfect, however there are times when these imperfections are exacerbated to the nth degree, debilitating any momentum. Frequently the offense needs a jump start, a first down, or a big play to get rolling. Given the right circumstances, Cam Newton can provide that spark; as Cam goes, the offense goes.
If the defense gives Newton an opportunity, he should take it. It's about that simple. To quote Chris Brown, "That's the beauty of football: punch, counterpunch."