Coaching matters. Just ask Cam Newton, who received arguably the biggest coaching upgrade of any quarterback in the NFL when the Panthers replaced Mike Shula with Norv Turner. The hire of Turner, who had been coaching in the NFL for four years before Newton was even born, raised plenty of skeptical eyebrows given his history with deep drops and a vertical passing attack.
But Turner has taken the Panthers skill players and deployed them in an entirely different way and the trickle-down effect on Newton and the Panthers offense has been stunning.
For starters, let’s simply look at Newton’s statistics. Turner was roundly mocked for claiming Newton could complete in the high 60 percent of his passes — understandably, given Newton’s career completion percentage was below 60 percent coming into this year. But Norv wasn’t wrong; Cam is now completing 66.4 percent of his passes after hitting on almost three fourths of his throws against the Ravens in Carolina’s surprising 36-21 win over the NFL’s best defense.
Newton’s interception rate is also the lowest its been in his career and, without really drawing any attention, he is having a better year through seven games than he did in 2015 when he led the Panthers to a 15-1 record and won MVP.
2015 (through seven games)
That year Newton became the only quarterback to ever throw for 3,500 yards, throw for 30+ touchdowns and rush for 600 yards in a single season. He’s on pace to become the second quarterback ever to do it.
But Panthers fans should be even more enthused about this year’s rendition, because Newton is being hit far less often. He has been sacked just 10 times so far this season, registering by far the lowest sack percentage (4.0 percent) of his career.
Carolina’s offensive line is playing at a surprisingly high level as well, managing to protect Newton when he does have to throw deep from a precarious position.
All of this is a culmination of a shift in personnel coupled with Turner’s ability to adjust his offensive philosophy to fit Newton’s and the talent around his unique quarterback. Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore are chess pieces, players who can seamlessly move around different formations and make an impact rushing or receiving. It’s no surprise Moore leads the NFL with 12.1 rushing yards per game by a wide receiver, or that the Panthers are first in rushing touchdowns by quarterbacks and wide receivers or that they’re sixth in the NFL in receiving touchdowns by running backs.
Look at this play from Sunday’s win over Baltimore for a perfect example of how Turner can take his speedy weapons and leverage a defense in multiple ways. The motion by Samuel is just another thing a defense has to deal with and even a slight play action fake to McCaffrey has to be accounted for. Newton rushing in one direction is always going to get defenders flowing that way and then, bang, Moore comes flying around for the backside, end-around pitch.
Good luck stopping that when the offensive line is making its blocks. Here’s another example of how motion and play action both leverage the defense and let Newton read what kind of look the defense is giving him. Turner is getting his playmakers into space and giving Newton easy throws that allow said playmakers to pick up tons of yards after the catch.
Turner hasn’t messed around with trying to reduce Newton’s running. There’s no need to do that — the Panthers idea of running Newton less before the 2017 season was asinine. Cam gets hurt when he spends too long in the pocket, holding the ball, waiting for plays to develop and then taking huge shots from defenders at full speed.
By putting an emphasis on quick throws and accuracy to playmakers, Turner has increased Cam’s efficiency, improved the play of the offensive line, maximized his playmakers’ skillsets and managed to create an offense that should keep Newton healthier over the course of the season.
The result has been an MVP-caliber start to the season for Newton and a Panthers offense that is beginning to really find its groove. If everything clicks for Carolina on that side of the ball in a 2015-type fashion, watch out.
To the weekly quarterback rankings.
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