COMMENTARY | Since entering the league in 2011, Cam Newton has proven himself to be one of the most athletic and physically gifted quarterbacks the league has ever seen. In the past two years he has shattered numerous records, including the record for most rushing touchdowns in a season by a quarterback, and has paved the way for mobile quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick with his ability to excel with a read-option offense. But despite his overwhelming physical tools and eye-popping stats, Cam has yet to deliver a winning season. Stats and measurables are nice to have on one's resume, but Cam, like any other quarterback, will be judged on how much he wins. If he can't win, then all of his talent is for naught.
Cam's problem is one that has affected many talented players throughout the history of the league, a problem that becomes severely enigmatic when a team's franchise quarterback is suffering from this problem. Cam suffers from big-play addiction. While he certainly has the ability to spring a big play at any time, that doesn't necessarily mean that the big play is the right play. A smart, winning quarterback knows to make the right play, even if that play is throwing the ball away or taking a sack. Cam on the other hand, will either try to run his way out of trouble or throw into tight coverage, usually ending up in an unnecessary turnover. If Cam is going to start winning, he has learn to take what the defense gives him. While he certainly has the ability to spring a 70 yard run or launch an 80 yard bomb, that doesn't mean he can pull it off all the time.
Truly clutch quarterbacks make the right plays so as to put their team in position to win. Look at Tom Brady's or Eli Manning's Super Bowl winning drives, Colin Kaepernick's drive to end the game in Super Bowl XLII, or half of John Elway's career for that matter. They didn't take their team down the field with one or two big, flashy plays. They dinked and dunked the ball down the field, throwing the ball away when the defense was solid and running for first downs when they saw an opening. Granted, Kaepernick didn't win the game, but he did put his team in the red zone at the end of the game; perfect position to win. The point is that he didn't put the ball in harm's way, which is what Cam does consistently at the end of games. Instead of taking control of the offense and managing the clock, he forces bad throws into tight windows and tries to get yardage that simply isn't there. He turns the ball over in the most crucial of situations, making it impossible for his team to win.
The key to Cam improving is learning how to set himself up. Take Peyton Manning. Manning is a master at controlling his offense and making sure they run the right play for the defense he sees. He calls runs when the defense is thin in the box and once they start crowding in, he throws a deep bomb for a score. He sets the defense up to allow a score instead of forcing the play right away, which is what Cam does far too often. Cam is a lot like J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks: he can score at will with highlight plays, but once the defense adjusts to him, he starts jacking up shots and becomes enigmatic for his team. Cam has to learn to allow the game to come to him and take what the defense gives him, instead of forcing big plays that simply aren't there. Once he can do that, he could very well become a Hall of Famer and maybe, just maybe, a Super Bowl champion.
Rich has been following the Carolina Panthers for over 10 years.
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