What's Wrong With Cam Newton?

 deadspin.com  09/13/2019 18:57:05   Dom Cosentino
Illustration for article titled What's Wrong With Cam Newton?
Photo: Jacob Kupferman (Getty)

Its time to start worrying about Cam Newton. If that wasnt clear before the Panthers 20-14 home loss last night to the Buccaneers, its obvious now. The only question is whether Newton is injured or washed.

All told, Newton completed just 48 percent of his passes last night, finishing the game with a 69.1 passer rating. He has yet to throw for a touchdown in two games, and hes already taken six sacks. Per Pro Football Focus, his adjusted completion percentagewhich measures accuracy by accounting for drops, throwaways, spikes, batted passes, and throws while being hitis just 65.8 percent, which ranks 26th in the league. Perhaps even more worryingly, Sports Illustrateds Jonathan Jones noticed that hes having a lot of difficulty throwing down the middle or to his right: an 80.8 percent completion rate on throws to the left side of the field that dips to 56.7 in the middle and just 40 percent to the right. Hes not running the ball anymore, either: just five attempts for minus-2 yards through two games.

And at the end of last nights game, facing a fourth-and-1 from the Bucs 2 with 1:28 to play, offensive coordinator Norv Turner took the ball out of Newtons hands entirely. The knockoff Philly Special that ensued, with running back Christian McCaffrey taking a direct snap and faking the pitch to wideout Curtis Samuel before darting outside, was thwarted.

Afterward, Newton refused to make any injury-related excuses:

I feel OK, Newton said after the Thursday night game when asked if he felt comfortable running the ball. Youre not going to hear no type of reasons why tonight didnt go as planned. I have to be better. No matter what physical condition Im in, no matter what foot or shoulder, I didnt get the job done tonight. Its frustrating, and I wish I could say something other than that but thats the facts.

As did head coach Ron Rivera:

No, his foot is not such that we dont trust [it], Rivera said. Dont even worry about the foot. The foot has nothing to do with it.

So what is it? In Week 1, Newton attempted just one pass of 20 yards or more, per Pro Football Focus. But that may have been by design. Last night, Newton had nine throws of 20 or more yards, and 50 attempts totalenough volume to suggest the shoulder trouble might be behind him. But his timing and his accuracy are not right.

Pressure affects all quarterbacks, and Newton saw pressure on 32.1 percent of his dropbacks last night, per PFF. But the impact of that pressureespecially from Bucs edge rusher Shaquil Barrett, whom PFF credited with three sacks, one hit, and four hurrieswas severe: Newton completed just 2 of 14 passes when pressured.

Now take these back-to-back passes to open receivers early in the fourth quarter, both of which were clean-pocket throws:

The big-bodied Newton has staked his career on being able to run with the ball in addition to throwing it; hes closing in on Randall Cunningham for second place in career rushing yards among quarterbacks. But Newton, in his ninth season, has also endured a great deal of punishment. Now 30 years oldstill relatively young in an era in which many other QBs are playing effectively into their late 30s and even 40s, in part by not getting hit so muchNewton had shoulder surgery in January for the second time in less than two years. Hes also had ankle surgery, broken ribs, and multiple head injuries. He fractured two vertebrae in his back during a 2014 car crash. And hes just three weeks removed from having sprained the middle of his left foot. Its hard to remember Andrew Luck and his reasons for retiring without wondering about Newton, too.

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