FanPost

Shallow Thoughts On The Passing Game

Three preseason games have given Panthers fans much to ponder about Mike Shula's offensive philosophy and approach to play-calling. There was one major source of frustration for the Panthers during Chudzinski's tenure with the Panthers - the tendency to call far too many high-risk, high-reward zone-read plays that led to several drives being stalled and having to settle for field goals.

There has been little sign of the zone-read during preseason. Instead there has been heavy emphasis on power running that has not been successful due to a sub-par offensive line. It does appear that the Panthers are counting on judicious use of the zone-read to provide a spark to the running game when the regular season starts. It remains to be seen if the Panthers will be successful following this strategy but there can be little doubt about how they plan to work around the deficiencies in offensive line play.

The other, perhaps greater, concern has been Shula's emphasis on calling few deep pass plays and call far more intermediate pass plays during preseason. Cam has shown in his two years in the NFL that he thrives in the short and deep passing game. The following are stats for pass plays by yards traveled in the air (in other words, yards after catch are not included).

CAM NEWTON (2012) CMP ATT CMP% AVG TD INT RAT ATT %
Pass Thrown Behind Line of Scrimmage 65 88 73.9 6.69 5 2 101 19%
Pass Thrown 1-10 yds 123 192 64.1 6.25 5 3 83.7 41%
Pass Thrown 11-20 yds 65 134 48.5 8.94 3 6 68.6 28%
Pass Thrown 21-30 yds 17 33 51.5 15.64 5 1 124.1 7%
Pass Thrown 31-40 yds 3 12 25 7.83 1 0 87.5 3%
Pass Thrown 41+ yds 4 13 30.8 15.85 0 0 79.8 3%
CAM NEWTON (2011) CMP ATT CMP% AVG TD INT RAT ATT %
Pass Thrown Behind Line of Scrimmage 89 104 85.6 6.88 1 1 94.5 20%
Pass Thrown 1-10 yds 120 188 63.8 5.47 8 4 83.4 37%
Pass Thrown 11-20 yds 71 142 50 8.75 5 8 68.5 28%
Pass Thrown 21-30 yds 22 55 40 13.11 6 4 93.6 11%
Pass Thrown 31-40 yds 4 15 26.7 11.87 1 0 98.8 3%
Pass Thrown 41+ yds 3 10 30 16.3 0 0 79.2 2%

Some observations overall

  • Statistics clearly reveal Cam's issues throwing between 11-20 yards. His rating for that range falls under 70 for both years which is well below his overall rating of 85.
  • Cam threw between 1-10 yards a touch more frequently in 2012 than in 2011 (4% more often). This translates to about 1-2 additional throws in that range per game.
  • He threw in 21-30 yard range less frequently in 2012 than in 2011 (4% less often). However his rating was higher by 30 points in 2012 as a result - he had 5 TDs to 1 interceptions in 2012 as compared to 6 TDs to 4 interceptions in 2011.
  • Most interestingly, despite posting poor stats in 2011, Cam threw in 11-20 yard range as frequently in 2012 as he did in 2011.

The next table compares Cam Newton with other top QBs in the league. Rodgers, Brees, Brady and Manning were obvious choices. I also wanted to compare Newton with recent Super Bowl winners so I added Joe Flacco and Eli Manning .All stats are 2012 except for Eli Manning (won SB in 2011).

21-30 YARDS CMP ATT YDS CMP% AVG RAT TD-I
JOE FLACCO 18 40 511 45 12.78 131.3 6
CAM NEWTON 17 33 516 51.5 15.64 124.1 4
AARON RODGERS 15 38 434 39.5 11.42 111.2 7
DREW BREES 17 38 498 44.7 13.11 98.1 2
PEYTON MANNING 19 43 554 44.2 12.88 91.8 2
TOM BRADY 16 47 468 34 9.96 89.7 3
ELI MANNING 2011 26 63 729 41.3 11.57 88.7 2
BEN ROTHLISBERGER 4 24 98 16.7 4.08 18.4 -2
31-40 YARDS CMP ATT YDS CMP% AVG RAT TD-I
AARON RODGERS 5 9 216 55.6 24 140 3
BEN ROTHLISBERGER 2 10 100 20 10 108.3 2
PEYTON MANNING 7 18 289 38.9 16.06 103 2
JOE FLACCO 8 26 308 30.8 11.85 102.7 2
TOM BRADY 6 15 256 40 17.07 99.3 2
ELI MANNING 2011 6 22 346 27.3 15.73 90.5 1
CAM NEWTON 3 12 94 25 7.83 87.5 1
DREW BREES 8 26 310 30.8 11.92 63.5 -1
40+ YARDS CMP ATT YDS CMP% AVG RAT TD-I
DREW BREES 5 7 274 71.4 39.14 153.3 2
BEN ROTHLISBERGER 3 9 179 33.3 19.89 121.5 2
ELI MANNING 2011 5 13 278 38.5 21.39 111.9 1
CAM NEWTON 4 13 206 30.8 15.85 79.8 0
JOE FLACCO 2 16 99 12.5 6.19 73.7 1
PEYTON MANNING 0 1 0 0 0 39.6 0
TOM BRADY 0 6 0 0 0 39.6 0
AARON RODGERS 1 7 52 14.3 7.43 18.5 -1

Notable Observations:

  • Even the elite QBs in the game don't attempt 40 plus yard bombs very often. Through the 2012 regular season, Aaron Rodgers has 7 attempts. Rothlisberger has 9. Flacco has the most at 16 - an average of 1 per game.
  • Newton is 2nd only to Flacco at hitting the 21-30 range. He is at his best throwing into this area and has had less success throwing further down the field. Factors like weapons at hand would account for this to some extent.
  • The most puzzling stats were from Drew Brees' splits: he was terrific throwing 40 plus yards completing 5 of 7 attempts. At 31-40 range though, he completed only 8 of 26 attempts.

The next step for me was to look at the tendency for each QB to pass in a given area. Again all stats are from 2012, except for Eli (2011).

Percentage of Attempts Newton Peyton Rodgers Brady Brees Ben Eli (2011) Flacco
Pass Thrown Behind LOS 19% 14% 18% 15% 19% 22% 17% 18%
Pass Thrown 1-10 yds 41% 52% 50% 55% 49% 43% 42% 48%
Pass Thrown 11-20 yds 28% 23% 21% 20% 22% 26% 24% 19%
Pass Thrown 21-30 yds 7% 8% 7% 7% 6% 5% 11% 8%
Pass Thrown 31-40 yds 3% 3% 2% 2% 4% 2% 4% 5%
Pass Thrown 41+ yds 3% 0% 1% 1% 1% 2% 2% 3%

  • Note the similarities between Peyton, Rodgers, Brady, Brees and Flacco in terms of distribution of passes.
  • The most significant variances are in Eli's and Flacco's numbers. Eli throw between 21-30 yards far more frequently than other passers. Flacco liked to throw 30 plus yards with far greater frequency.
  • Newton seemed to be closer to Big Ben's distribution. However, Big Ben was successful throwing between 11-20 yards with a rating of 99.7
  • The only other QB from this group to exhibit the weakness that Newton has between 11-20 yards was Joe Flacco. He was rated at 64.5 for this range. However, Newton threw 28% of his passes in this range as opposed to Flacco's 19%. As pointed out earlier in the first table, Newton threw in this range with the same frequency in 2011.

So far during preseason, Newton has attempted only 2 deep passes (greater than 20 yards) and 13 passes in the 11-20 yard range that has been identified as Newton's greatest weakness as reported by James. Given a total of 42 passes in this stretch, this works out to about 5% pass attempts of greater than 20 yards and 31% of pass attempts between 11-20 yards. This is a departure (in the wrong direction) from what we saw in 2012 during regular season when Cam threw 13% of his pass attempts greater than 20 yards and 28% of pass attempts between 11-20.

Further study of Flacco's passing splits in 2011 and 2010 reveal that Flacco rated out significantly better (111.7 in 2010 and 97.1 in 2011) in the 11-20 yard range in those years. He also threw more frequently in that range (around 21% of total attempts in 2010 and 2011). We can't be certain of the motivation behind the changes but there were some adjustments to their offense in 2012 - perhaps partially predicated by Flacco's difficulties in 11-20 range. If this was the case, adjustments were made during the season. For the Panthers, it would make more sense to reduce the number of pass attempts in the 11-20 range as was the approach with Joe Flacco for the Ravens in 2012. At the moment, we can't be assured that will be the approach Shula will take.

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