It can be argued that Cam Newton has as much talent as any quarterback in the league because of his incredible arm strength and dynamic mobility. It can also be said that he doesn’t posses the consistency in his mechanics like the upper echelon quarterbacks do and it’s holding him back from becoming one of the league’s best at the position.
If you missed the Panthers’ loss Sunday to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you missed several plays that illustrated Newton’s issues with his footwork, one of which particularly stood out on a third down and long interception at the conclusion of third quarter.
Everyone knows about Newton’s rawness (for lack of a better term) coming out of college. At the University of Auburn, he played in an offense that utilized significant pre-snap motion and was based on an old school option philosophy in both the run and pass game. Because of this, he was not exposed to the intricacies of the quarterback position, and he’s now forced to learn on the job.
Newton’s rookie season was mighty impressive as he picked apart defenses with pure arm strength and accuracy. However, in certain situations, his “rawness” showed, and he cost his team with questionable footwork. In Week 1 against the Buccaneers, it was the same story.
With the ball on his own 31-yard line, Newton stood tall before the snap and surveyed the Bucs defense. They had a three-man line along with two linebackers and veteran safety Ronde Barber showing blitz as they hovered over the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, four of the other five defensive backs were spread out by the Panthers 3×1 Trips (3 receivers to a side) formation. The three Panthers pass catchers were in a bunched set with a lone receiver on the backside of the formation.
As Newton received the ball at the snap, he took a hard look to his left where No. 1 target Steve Smith was running a ‘Go’ route (also known as a “9″ route) and was matched up with cornerback Eric Wright. But what he didn’t see was rotating free safety Ahmad Black — the only defender who was not in man coverage in the Bucs Man-Free coverage. Black was running in the same direction Newton was looking and was preparing to make a play on the ball.
With a clean pocket to work in, Newton had the time to plant his lead foot in the ground, rotate his hips, and follow through to deliver a ball to the back shoulder of Smith. But he didn’t do any of that. Instead, he opened his left hip, cocked back, and attempted to deliver the ball with sheer arm strength instead of rotating his hips like he has been instructed to by coaches.
Because of his lack of hip rotation and follow through, Newton’s pass went in the opposite direction than the one he intended. Ideally, he should have placed the ball outside and on the back shoulder of Smith because that’s the safest and only area where the cornerback or safety can’t make a play. It would have been either a complete or incomplete pass, with no damage done. However, the ball drifted inside because Newton didn’t generate enough power from his lower body to throw it outside.
Quarterbacks are taught to generate power from the back leg, which is transferred to the front foot when the hips are rotated and then goes up the hip and shoulder to deliver a throw with proper balance. That wasn’t the case here, however, and as a result, the ball ended up inside of Smith and in the hands of Black.
This is a significant issue for Newton and a host of other quarterbacks, both young and old. Whether it’s Newton in his second year or Fitzpatrick in his eighth, the issue persists and has been detrimental to their game. However, it can be fixed, and that’s what fans and coaches are counting on with Newton.
Through repetition, Newton can correct his lack of hip rotation on his throws and become a more consistent quarterback. If he fails to fix it, he’ll continue to have issues with ball placement that will cost his team with turnovers in his own territory, consequently making it even more difficult for his defense to play well by shortening the field for the opposition.