Cam Newton‘s 77.5 passer rating is the lowest by a reigning MVP since former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair posted a 73.1 mark in 2004. His 45.3 completion percentage since Week 11 is the third-lowest by any quarterback in a six-game span since 1991, per NFL Research.
Whether the root cause of Newton’s disappointing production lies in his mechanical flaws, a crisis of confidence stemming from his Super Bowl 50 failures, his injury-ravaged offensive line, an inconsistent ground attack or — most likely — a combination thereof, the Carolina Panthers understand their approach must change in 2017.
“There’s a lot of things we’re going to look at,” coach Ron Rivera said at a news conference Monday. “We understand and we get that there’s some things that are going to have to evolve around him, because he’s evolving as a quarterback as well.
“You know, he’s getting older and he’s going to be a different-style of player. We know that much.”
The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Newton stands tall in the pocket, shakes off oncoming pass rushers and waits until late in the down to attack downfield. In terms of size and playing style, he has long evoked comparisons to the early-career sandlot version of Ben Roethlisberger.
As Pittsburgh’s veteran quarterback entered his thirties, the Steelers’ organization understood that he would need to evolve in order to survive.
After watching Roethlisberger lead the NFL in sacks and hits absorbed for nearly a decade, the team’s brain trust brought in coordinator Todd Haley to curb the injury risk by emphasizing better pre-snap reads and getting the ball out faster.
The Steelers wanted the face of their franchise to become “more of a cerebral player and not just a physical wonder,” NFL Network’s Michael Silver explained at the time.
That evolution is complete.
Only Oakland’s Derek Carr (16) has been sacked fewer times than Roethlisberger (17) this season. While Haley’s offense stresses quicker passes, Roethlisberger hasn’t sacrificed deep-ball prowess. His 17 touchdowns of 15 or more air yards are the most in the NFL with China jerseys this season.
“It’s all right. There’s no need to dwell on something,” Newton said, via the Charlotte Observer. “I’m not gonna blame nothing but my production. Production hasn’t been solid, and that’s me. I can’t point to something and say, well, this is the reason more so than it just hasn’t been carrying over to the game.”
Denver created the blueprint to bottle up Brett Favre back in Super Bowl XXXII, and soon, the rest of the league was playing copycat to limit the Hall of Famer. Perhaps the Broncos have done the same to Newton, who has seen more pressure and frequent hits from defenders in 2016 in the aftermath of Super Bowl 50, a game in which he was almost constantly harassed by defenders.
Newton didn’t get help in that game from his receivers, whose drops short-circuited Carolina’s formerly potent offense. Newton got a quick reminder of that loss in Week 1 of the 2016 season, in which Denver repeatedly hit the quarterback, starting a string of games in which he was abused by defenders. The increased pressure and contact even had Newton calling for closer officiating, and might have been a sign the opposing defenses were getting into his head.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Saturday that one name to watch is Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.
Rivera could join a young team in need of discipline in a city with a large Hispanic population. His arrival would likely be celebrated as a splash hire that could quickly turn the program around.
There are several hurdles to any Rivera-Los Angeles connection: 1) It’s not certain Rivera would want to leave Carolina. 2) Coaching trades are complicated (but not impossible). 3) How would Rivera handle the offensive side of the ball? Rapoport noted that veteran offensive coordinator Norv Turner — living in California nearby and has a close relationship with Rivera — would be a name to keep an eye on.
Until the job is filled, expect the speculation on the next Rams coach to continue to be far-ranging and include every splashy name possible. The L.A. brass might not settle on a big-name hire, but that won’t stop names like Rivera or Sean Payton from being connected to the best job on the market.