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Greg Cosell’s Look Ahead: Cam Newton shows off his strengths on three big passes vs. Saints

Shutdown Corner

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(USA Today Sports Images)

People think about a player being "clutch" when he makes big plays at the end of games, but the real question is, why did it happen? Attributes and traits lead to success in the NFL, and Cam Newton's strengths led to him making three huge plays to lead Carolina to a win last week.

Newton completed three passes on Carolina's game-winning drive, a 37-yard pass to Ted Ginn, a 14-yard pass to Greg Olsen and a 14-yard touchdown to Domenik Hixon. On the first two throws, especially, he hung despite the rush and made accurate passes with his strong arm. Maybe two years ago he would have fled the pocket. On those throws he stayed in, and even though there were bodies around him he made incredible passes.

The throw to Ginn was an arm throw. He couldn’t step in to it. If you believe arm strength is overrated, just realize that without Newton's arm strength that throw couldn’t have been made. He also made a strong throw to Olsen even though tackle Jordan Gross got shoved back into Newton.

I’m not saying you have to have a hose to be a NFL quarterback, but not all quarterbacks can make those throws. That's the kind of attribute that caused Carolina to make him the first pick of the 2011 draft.

When all is said and done, you have to exhibit certain attributes, traits and characteristics to play quarterback at a high level. Not everyone has those at the same degree. But there are certain things you have to do. Throwing with people around you is one of those things. That’s what Newton did on those throws to Ginn and Olsen. The throw to Hixon was also an example of Newton's size and strength in the pocket.

Newton has been up and down in his career (he still needs to work on touch and different kinds of throws, because at this point he’s a one-speed passer, for example), but he has some impressive traits. Last week he used them to help Carolina win a big game. He'll try to help Carolina win again this week and wrap up the NFC South title.

Tony Gonzalez's farewell

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez is scheduled to play his last NFL game on Sunday. The Atlanta Falcons aren't going to the playoffs, and Gonzalez has said he will retire. He hasn't lost a step from last season, even at age 37.

I don’t think he’s the same as he was eight years ago, but nobody would expect that.

He’s not used as a vertical route runner where speed is a factor, like a Jimmy Graham or Vernon Davis. He’s a short and intermediate route runner in between the hashes, and catches balls with people hanging all over him maybe better than any tight end who has ever played. That’s why the basketball analogy fits with him, because basketball players have to make plays in tight quarters. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan throws him the ball when people are right on him. And he catches those contested balls. He obviously has great hands. I think he has an intuitive feel for how to position his body, and that's something you can't necessarily teach a guy. A young tight end might never do it like Tony Gonzalez.

Gonzalez's ability through his career to make contested, contorted catches is impressive. And he makes it look easy, which is the best compliment you can give a guy.

Eagles offensive line might be the best

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Eagles OT Lane Johnson (USA Today Sports Images)

Heading into a game at Dallas that will decide the NFC East, the most overlooked element of the Eagles' offense and the team's success this year is the offensive line. It's arguably the best offensive line in the NFL this season, with all five starters playing every game.

Jason Kelce is one of most athletic centers in NFL. He has great feet and movement to the second level or outside to the perimeter. And the improvement of rookie right tackle Lane Johnson, the fourth overall pick of the 2013 draft, has been monumental.

Johnson was the best athlete of the top three linemen selected in the draft (Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel went ahead of him) and now he's playing like it. People weren't sure when he'd improve because he had limited experience. Early in the season he wasn't playing to his athleticism, because he's in the NFL now, he's not going up against a defensive end from Kansas State anymore. But all of a sudden he has gotten better and better and better. It's a dramatic improvement.

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.

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