Perhaps the biggest win of the season was the 4-point victory in Week 16 versus the rival Saints. Winning that game helped Carolina clinch its bye and home game; lose, and the Panthers likely would have traveled to Philly, then to Seattle this weekend. I'm not saying that Panthers can't beat the Seahawks in Seattle, but I can't imagine wanting to go there unnecessarily.
In many ways, that win over the Saints was a microcosm of the Panthers' season, and especially that of star QB Cam Newton. He has finally put things together this year, and in that game, delivered the game-winning TD drive with less than a minute on the clock. That's one reading. Another is this: that Sunday, Cam Newton and the Panthers were bailed out by their defense which intercepted Drew Brees twice and sacked him 6 times, killing several promising Saints drives. The Panthers won despite Cam throwing for only 181 yards, completing only 59% of passes, and taking 4 sacks for 40 yards. In fact, Cam's QBR of 16.6 was his second worst of the year.
So which is the real Cam Newton? In almost all cases I've examined on #QBCorner, the answer is somewhere in the middle. I went through an exhaustive post on his performance in the 49ers game, finding that he is a talented though sometimes inconsistent QB. I again analyzed every pass from the last Saints game and while I won't go through that much detail on him again, here's list of things I liked and didn't like:
After the 49ers game, I noted that the Panthers coaches called a lot of deep passes and didn't really take advantage of the middle of the field. Notably, Greg Olsen saw only 3 targets, catching one for 14 yards. There's a big difference between throwing against Navarro Bowman / Patrick Willis and and Junior Gallette / David Hawthorne / Curtis Lofton / Parys Haralson. But the Panthers coaches made the right choice to get Olsen involved in the intermediate areas where he presents a big target for his young QB. On the day, Olsen was targeted 7 times (next most was Ginn with 4 targets), catching 4 balls for 35 yards. Olsen gives the passing game a much-needed extra dimension given the backs aren't involved at all (see below).
However, Olsen was also not immune to drops:
Overall, drops from various receivers were a problem in the 49ers game and continue to plague this offense. Cam's only pick was on a dropped pass in the red zone:
Advanced NFL Stats) is 2.99:
Here is another case.
But the receiver can't haul it in. If it counted, this would have gone down as a 18-yard completion. But the pass travels more like 30 yards in the air, and Cam put it within a tiny window.
With the receivers struggling, the Panthers absolutely need Steve Smith. The veteran is back at practice, but it is anyone's guess how effective he'll be after he sprained his PCL on this decently thrown ball from Cam:
In the past, QB Corner has criticized QBs for looseness with the ball on scrambles, like this:
Cam is now almost at the line of scrimmage and has to make a quick pass/run decision. But he's still holding the ball in front very casually. If he's thinking pass, the ball should be up in a passing stance; if he wants to run, it should be tucked into his elbow and chest to protect it. He eventually tucks it as he crosses the line on a 2 yard scramble.
Why is ball security so important to me? Well on the very next play...
nothing more than luck: you're trusting an oblong ball to bounce your way. The Panthers were fortunate here: they could punt on 4th and 28 from their own 15. According to Advanced NFL stats, the Panthers' points expectation was -1.77 following a punt (i.e., the Saints were expected to score 1.77 points after receiving the punt):
But if the ball takes a Saints bounce and they recover at the 15, their expected points shoots up to 4.39:
If the Saints recover, that's a difference of 2.62 points in a game the Panther's won by 4 (4.39 points after fumble - 1.77 points they would have gotten after punt). Using Chase Stuart's research showing that the defense recovers 60.5% of QB sack fumbles that don't go out of bounds, the Saints get an average of 2.66 points for each time Cam puts the ball on the ground in that situation (60.5% probability * 4.39 points), with a total net gain (2.66 - 1.77) of 0.89 points. That doesn't seem like much, but ask the Chiefs if they could have used 0.89 points.
Deep in the 2nd quarter, after the defense picked of Drew Brees near midfield, DeAngelo Williams took a handoff 43 yards to the house. His other 11 rushes averaged 2.18 yards/carry with only 2 rushes going longer than 3 yards and 4 touches for no gain. Panthers' backs weren't much help in the passing game, catching 3 balls for 5 yards. Not good for a group the team has heavily invested in.
Footwork and Reads
Cam has shown some real growth this season in fundamental quarterbacking skills. Playing the Saints seems easier than the 49ers, but did you know the Saints had this year's 9th best defense by weighted DVOA (-5.9%) while the 49ers ranked only 11th (-5.3%)? Or that the Saints had the 6th-rated passing defense (-9.2%) while the 49ers were 10th (-2.1%)? These guys aren't pushovers, and Cam performed admirably. There were a few hiccups:
But Cam showed some nice reads and nifty footwork:
Now the Panthers have given up the lead and are in desperation mode with under a minute left:
But the Panthers still aren't quite in field goal range.
His last pass is a gem:
This last pass is what makes Cam so special. His athleticism and arm talent dragged his sorry offense to a win against one of the best teams in the NFL. His has flashed the ability to manipulate defenses and make good reads, and the consistency of his footwork has improved. He needs to work on his understanding of the pocket and security with the ball. Overall, Carolina look like they're a couple linemen and a couple skill guys short on offense. But with a terrific defensive front 7 and improved secondary? I wouldn't be surprised at all if the legend of Cam grows as the team goes on a Super Bowl run.
#YMTC #YouMakeTheCalls #QBCorner