Cassel: A quarterback's perspective on Newton's sudden slump originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
What's been going on with Cam Newton over the last two weeks? It's a combination of things.
The Patriots have made a commitment to running the ball and have tried to hit on deep play action passes, and on some of those down-the-field throws, he’s just waiting for somebody to get open.
When you’re waiting for somebody to get open and you’re trying to buy yourself time, you start to hold onto the ball. You can also see he feels like he has to make a play. When things haven’t been going well, he’s been trying to make a play when maybe it’s not exactly there by running or forcing a throw.
When guys couldn't get open for Tom Brady last season, he was totally fine throwing the ball away and moving onto the next play. But in a situation like this where you’re down a few scores and trying to play catch-up, you feel that sense of urgency as a quarterback: “Hey, I need to make a play to generate some offense.”
Cam will be the first to point those out his missed throws, and there were a few against the 49ers. There was a bad throw to Julian Edelman not knowing he was going to run a "jerk route." There was another where he started to panic, stepped up in the pocket and threw right to Fred Warner. There was a throw to Damiere Byrd early in the game where he overshot the crossing route.
When you’re not making those plays early on and you start to fall behind, you’re now really feeling that sense of urgency of trying to get something going for the offense. When he feels like he has to make a play, then usually bad things happen when you’re not playing within your offensive structure.
Nobody really understands whether COVID-19 impacted him from a strength or energy level standpoint, but I don't think his time off much of an impact. I missed a week of practice in Kansas City after an emergency appendectomy, and your arm actually feels more rested.
I just feel there's a lack of confidence in his game right now. He’s facing a ton of adversity and there’s a ton of pressure on him. I’ve been in that situation where there’s a lot of pressure and you feel like you have to win.
You also have to consider his supporting cast. He’ll say to the media, “We’ve got everybody we need," but at the same time, if you look around the league and are truthful with yourself, they’re lacking depth at wide receiver. They haven’t really been able to get the tight ends involved.
The one positive on offense has been the run game, but now defenses are loading the box to try to take that away on early downs. They’re saying, “We don’t think your guys match up well against our guys, so see if you can beat us with the pass.”
This offense just isn't in a rhythm right now. They know their identity as a run-first team, but when you're not generating yardage on early downs like they did early in the season, then you get into those third down situations where you feel like you have to make a play, and that's when defenses can dial up all sorts of pressures and give you diverse looks, which makes it even more challenging on Cam.