Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been off his game recently, culminating in a four-interception effort against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. With the Panthers a half game out of the second wild-card spot, Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns will prove crucial to their playoff hopes.
Browns defensive end and fellow No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett has been studying Newton on tape and thinks he might have an idea why.
“It just looks like he’s kind of exerting himself more than usual to get off those longer throws,’’ Garrett said Friday to Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot. “He’s forcing the ball.”
Some of this may have to do with Newton’s right shoulder, as he underwent rotator cuff surgery in 2017.
“He doesn’t look like he did at the beginning of this season and last year, so it might be biting at him, but we’ve got to play him like he’s Super Cam.’’
What’s wrong with Cam?
Newton has battled injuries over the years from his head to his ankles, but the recent shoulder injury seems to really be bothering him. The stats bear it out in the last four games compared to the first half of the season.
Through the first eight games of the season, Newton threw 15 touchdowns to four interceptions while taking 12 sacks. In the last four games, however, Newton has nine touchdowns to seven interceptions while taking 12 sacks. His completion percentage and yards per attempt are actually up in the last four games, but that’s in part because he’s had to depend on shorter passes.
His lack of effectiveness downfield is downright concerning. Newton’s arm strength has clearly been on the Panthers’ minds as they let backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke toss a Hail Mary last week instead of Newton. As Sports Illustrated’s Jonathan Jones points out, Newton is just 6-for-19 with four interceptions and a touchdown on passes traveling at least 15 yards and 3-for-12 on passes traveling more than 20 yards.
“Just got to live with it. Father Time ain’t nobody’s friend,” Newton said on Wednesday. “At the end of the day you’ve got to do certain things that give you the best opportunity to be accurate, have strength in your arm or have endurance in the game. For me it’s just all about taking care of the little things that make big sense in the long run.”
Can the Browns capitalize?
Garrett will play a key role in the Browns’ effort to stymie Newton and the Panthers’ 11th-ranked scoring offense. The second-year pro is tied for fourth in the league with 11.5 sacks, including 6.5 in his last six games.
Cleveland could be poised to have a big day defensively, as only the Chicago Bears have more takeaways than the Browns’ 27. And much of that will depend on Garrett’s pass rush and what he has learned on tape.
“We’ve got to take advantage of that,’’ said Garrett. “If he’s going to give us some or he’s going to throw some our way, we’ve got to make sure we give our offense good field position or maybe even score with it.”
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