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Something Is Wrong With Cam Newton

It doesn’t take an expert to realize that something is wrong with Cam Newton. Whether the cumulative effects of the various injuries he has suffered throughout his career have taken a toll on him, or there’s a specific injury causing a problem, it’s now clear that Newton is a shell of his former self.  In Newton’s last 16 games, he’s thrown just 16 touchdown passes… while throwing 16 interceptions.  In Newton’s MVP season of 2015, he averaged more than two passing touchdowns per game, and just over half an interception per game.  The Panthers scored just 9 points against the Bills last week, but the bottom fell out yesterday.

Facing what had been a historically bad Saints defense, Newton produced the single-worst game of his career:  He threw 26 passes but gained just 167 yards, while taking four sacks and losing 28 yards.  That’s an ugly 4.6 NY/A, but it gets much worse when you realize he had no touchdowns and three interceptions.  That translates to a 0.13 ANY/A average, the worst statistical performance of Newton’s career. Again: this came against the Saints.

This game also dropped Newton’s ANY/A over his last 16 games to below 5.00.  That’s right: over Newton’s last 16 games, he has the following stat line: 279/520 (54%), 3,528 yards (6.8 Y/A), 16 TDs, 16 INTs, 42 sacks for 337 yards, and 4.97 ANY/A. The graph below shows Newton’s single game ANY/A (in blue) and trailing 16 game ANY/A (in black) for each game of his career (playoffs excluded):

So… Newton is performing really poorly as a passer, at least statistically. But slumps happen, right? That alone wouldn’t be enough to conclude that somethign is wrong with Newton. But then there’s this: In his last 16 games, he’s rushed for just 314 yards. Over his last 10 games, he’s rushed for 144 yards. This is Cam Newton! The graph below shows Newton’s rushing yards in each game plotted in blue against the left Y-Axis, and his trailing 16 game rushing total in black against the right Y-Axis.  As you can see, the trend is unmistakable:

So yeah, something is wrong with Newton.  He shouldn’t be averaging 1 TD, 1 INT, and 20 rushing yards per game. Oh, and if you care about things like yards per carry, Newton is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry over his last 16 games, also (easily) the worst of his career.

It was unrealistic to expect Newton to continue to play at an MVP level after 2015, but star quarterbacks don’t play like backups at the age of 28 without an explanation.

  • sacramento gold miners

    The explanation behind Newton’s decline might be in the volume of rushing attempts. Over 700 and counting, which is considerably more than the likes of Randall Cunningham and Steve Young had at the same age. He’s also been sacked 227 times, and those hits add up. Can Newton change his style of play and still be effective? Other running QBs did so, but they didn’t seem to run as much as Newton. He also ran a ton in college, it’s been a big part of his game for many years.

  • Mark Growcott

    Newton regressed badly in 2016 beginning with the Super Bowl earlier that year. He had his worst game of the 2015 season in the SB and followed that with another sub-par performance against the same opposition in the Week 1 season opener and never really recaptured any of that 2015 MVP like form during the rest of the season.  The start of the 2017 season is just a continuation of that. He seems to be gun shy to run these days and as you say perhaps all those cumulative hits he has incurred has taken its toll on him.

    I don’t know what the future holds for him and it is quite possible we have seen the best from him.  At his best he is truly dynamic and has skills that are unmatched.

    • I think it’s very possible. Cam’s 2015 season may go down as the strangest in NFL history if he career continues this way. While his skillset is unmatched, it’s never really consistently produced great numbers. He’s a bit like Reeves-Era John Elway in that we all know how physically gifted he is, but it just isn’t translating into great production. The last 16 games have not been the anomaly in Cam’s career – 2015 was. Compared to his career averages, he had 20% more passing yards, 75% (!) more touchdown passes, and a 16% higher passer rating in 2015. I wonder if the dropoff on Chase’s charts would be as drastic if you replace 2015 with an “average” Cam Newton season.

  • Dan

    Cunningham, Culpepper, McNair, and McNabb all declined significantly as runners in their late 20s.

    • Duff Soviet Union

      Russell Wilson’s rushing has also fallen off hugely in his mid – late 20’s. 53 yards a game at age 26, 34 at 27 and 16 at age 28. In three games this year, he’s back up to 33 but at a lower yards per carry than any year apart from last year.

      • James

        Wilson also had an ankle injury for all of last season, which had a big impact on his ability to run.

      • Dan

        Wilson’s rushing yards per game have gone 31, 34, 53, 35, 16, 33, with the last number coming through 3 games this year. If he keeps up the 30+ this year then the 53 and 16 look like outliers; if he doesn’t then I’d still count him as going strong through age 27.

    • This seems pretty common even among “mobile” quarterbacks than can run but aren’t considered running QBs. I always think of Brett Favre because I saw it first hand. In his 20s, he would often run to for first downs if he thought he could. Then around 2001-02 (when he was in his early 30s), it seemed like he just decided that he no longer wanted to run anymore. He would blindly throw balls away, sometimes even beyond the LOS, to avoid getting contacted. The stats show it too. 82% of his total rushing yards (1,844) came by year 9, meaning just 18% of his career rushing yards come in years 10-19.

      Steve Young is the only running QB that I can think of that didn’t significantly decline in production as he got older. His second highest rushing season (454 yds) was in 1998 when he was 37 years old. Though Young as a whole is an anomaly. He seemed ageless. Even in his limited 1999 before a concussion caused his retirement, his dip in production was much more due to a horrid offensive line than his own play.

      • Dan

        Michael Vick was still going strong as a runner into his 30s. I think that Vick, Cunningham, Culpepper, McNair, and McNabb are the only QBs who both 1) were great runners in their 20s and 2) continued to play quarterback into their 30s.

        If you want to widen the sample, you can look at guys who didn’t run as much. I think the next 5 are Steve Young, Kordell Stewart, Greg Landry, Steve Grogan, and Mark Brunell. 3 of the 5 declined significantly in their 20s (Landry, Grogan, Brunell), 2 did not (Young & Stewart).

        You could also widen the sample by including QBs whose careers had a different shape. Bobby Douglass was on that top tier of running QBs at ages 25-26, but he was in and out of the starting job and barely saw the field in his 30s. He basically fits the pattern of late-20s decline: his last 30+ yd/g season was at age 27, and he run much less at age 29.

        Vince Young was arguably in the Young/Brunell tier as a runner, and he also seemed to decline over the course of his 20s (although maybe he was below that tier – his only 30+ yd/g season came as a rookie).

        Russell Wilson, Tyrod Taylor, Colin Kaepernick, and Robert Griffin III are all still in their late 20s so it is too soon to tell with them. Three of them still seemed to be going strong in the last 5+ game season that they played: Taylor (age 27), Kaepernick (age 29), and Griffin (age 26). Wilson’s last big running season was in 2015 at age 27, but it looks like he might bounce back this year.

        That covers every QB who had a 35+ yd/g season since 1960 (min 5 starts), except for Tim Tebow (who didn’t last as a QB), Terrelle Pryor (ditto), and Virgil Carter (who ran for 38 ypg in his 7 games as a rookie in 1968 and never reached 20 ypg again).

    • Dan

      In general, the age distribution of QB rushing success looks a lot like the age distribution of RB rushing success, and not like the age distribution of QB passing success.

      For example, compare the top 50 seasons since 1970 for QB rushing (rushing yards per game, min 10 games and 30 passing att), RB rushing (rushing yards per game, min 10 games), and QB passing (ANY/A index, min 10 games and 120 passing att). Breaking down each of those top 50s by age:

      Age 25 or less: 28 QB rushing seasons, 24 RB rushing seasons, 5 QB passing seasons.

      Age 26-29: 16 QB rushing seasons, 21 RB rushing seasons, 18 QB passing seasons.

      Age 30-33: 5 QB rushing seasons, 5 RB rushing seasons, 18 QB passing seasons.

      Age 34 or older: 1 QB rushing season, 0 RB rushing seasons, 9 QB passing seasons.

  • hill2laettner

    The answer to the rushing decline is they don’t rush him anymore.
    The answer to the passing decline includes everything from injuries, poor OT’s, poor play calling, and more. It appears that those things have also had a cumulative effect on him mentally. Not sure when or if it turns around but schematically speaking, this offense is far from 2015.

  • McGeorge

    I think him coking against Denver in the playoffs did him in.
    He’s being punish by the football gods for not trying to recover his own fumble.
    They stuck a sliver of Kryptonite up his backside.

  • D3

    His running attack with Stewart is anemic and they use the new back as a receiver(McCaffery), they just don’t have an identity right now! Hell is he even fully healed from shoulder surgery yet? The coach depends on his Defense and doesn’t have the ground and pound game no more! #CAM NEWTON

  • Alex

    This is just my impression from having watched most of the games in Newton’s career:

    1. Either due to lack of offseason/preseason reps or the shoulder not being 100%, Newton’s accuracy is off. I’ve always thought the ‘Newton is inaccurate’ narrative has been overblown in the past, but his misses so far this year are the worst I can remember.

    2. Injuries to other players (particularly Ryan Kalil) have hurt the offense as a whole. It seemed to me last year that the offense (and Newton) was fine when Ryan Kalil was in the game and mostly struggled when he was out. The offense has had it moments without Kalil, so it’s obviously not the whole story, but I do think it’s contributing.

    3. In an effort to protect Newton, the coaching staff is forcing the offense to play with one hand behind it’s back. The play calling seems to go through long stretches of rather vanilla run plays, which would be fine if the offense line was blowing teams off the line, but they haven’t been. The Panthers have demonstrated the ability to overcome mediocre line play using options and misdirection, but seem increasingly less willing to use that ability. Take this last game for example: they started out with a bunch of plays that featured a speed sweep look, a triple option that gained 17 yards, and a reverse that gained 31 yards. In total those first two drives gained 106 yards. You’d think the team might want to keep going back to that well, but for the rest of the day, these plays were few and far between. I can recall only 3 more option plays and no more speed sweep/reverse plays. Again, there are other factors, but I don’t think it’s entirely coincidental that Newton’s best three seasons by ANY/A are also his three seasons with the most rushing attempts.