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 this season.
Pittsburgh’s approach with Roethlisberger should be Carolina’s model with Newton, even if the 2015 MVP comes with his own unique strengths and weaknesses.
While he might well be the greatest dual-threat quarterback in history, he has also been a subpar NFL passer outside of a 10-game hot streak last season.
His own evolution will be toward a more disciplined pocket passer with streamlined mechanics and away from a running quarterback absorbing too many helmet-to-helmet blows.
It will be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterback coach Ken Dorsey are retained to oversee the next phase of Newton’s career.
The Steelers imported Haley to instill the necessary changes to Roethlisberger’s game. Might the Panthers make a similarly inspired move, perhaps by replacing Shula’s hybrid college-pro scheme with a more traditional dropback offense?
The NFL rumor machine is already cranking out a potential Rivera reunion with former mentor Norv Turner, one of the most respected offensive minds of the past three decades.
No matter who’s charged with overseeing it, Newton’s evolution will be a story to monitor as he attempts to bounce back to MVP form in 2017.