Cam Newton’s 2016: The Sequel to RGIII’s 2012

Sequels are bigger and flashier than the originals. Almost never better, but you can count on everything being larger.

The drama of the NFL inspires movies, so it’s no surprise to find sequels there too.

Let’s talk about a sequel involving two NFL quarterbacks: RGIII’s 2012 rookie season, and Cam Newton’s 2015 Superbowl contending season.

The first one was a good story: a well-spoken, Heisman trophy winning, African-American rookie quarterback joins a team from a historically racially divided city. He ignites the franchise delivering a whirlwind ride to a division title, wins NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and captivates the city…only to enjoy one of the largest falls from grace in recent memory.

The ACL, the locker room turmoil, and the power struggles will all end fairly soon in a lackluster departure this offseason, spurred largely by the Redskins avoiding a $16mm salary cap hit.

gty_493267298_76841704.jpgWhat a story! RGIII’s saga is one that captivated football fans of all teams, but how does the fusion of reality TV and cinema that is the NFL top that? Enter Cam Newton.

Last time, the hero was too clean cut. A guy from a military family who’s eloquent, but inspirational quote-touting to the point where an ESPN analyst called him a “cornball brother”. We needed something bigger this time; a guy with a shady past tinged with a scandal.

4 years of up and down play has culminated into our current climax. Cam is everything this sequel needed: bigger stature, bigger smile, bigger state, and the biggest pinnacle of the sport. However, we’ve seen this story before and with the bigger climb will inevitabluy come the bigger fall.

You might be thinking right now how on earth are you comparing these two seasons?

The narrative and storylines are paralleled by the statistics. The pondering of whether the animosity of fans and media towards both players is fueled by race. The self-centered tendencies of both players have built the foundations of the polarizing opinions of them. Some see them as selfish, and others see the next evolution of quarterback. Neither quarterback at the height of their success has carried himself with the aura of a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady; however, that isn’t the only place where comparisons to those passing greats fall short.

One of the most telling statistics for dual threat quarterbacks is the passing efficiency on 3rd and long. Even though the 3rd and long situation has a low success rate across the board with NFL passers, “dual threat” passers are at a disadvantage as the threat of the run is eliminated.

If you want to see whether a passer’s throwing statistics are truly a product of his throwing talent or a by-product of defenders’ wariness of an early down scramble leading to open receivers, look at 3rd and long.

The 2012 Redskins struggled here because when the gimmicky read-option didn’t work, Robert stared down receivers and couldn’t convert. He would sporadically dazzle with his runs breaking the pocket, but his 3rd and long efficiency left more to be desired:

  • In 2012, RGIII completed 55% of his passes on 3rd and long versus 86% on 1st and 10 or longer and 74% of 2nd and 10 or longer
  • Comparatively, Tom Brady was a 62% passer on 3rd and long in 2015
  • Kirk Cousins, who had the highest completion percentage in the NFL in 2015, completed 62% of his throws on 3rd and 10 or longer

Cam wasn’t particularly efficient on any down and distance, as his long scenarios yielded percentages including:

  • 57% on 3rd and long
  • 69% on second and long
  • 55% on 1st and long

The threat of the run was clearly impactful in his game all year and his statistics are littered with that tell. Even in short yardage 3rd down situations he did not complete the ball at a high percentage. When defenses expected a pass, Cam Newton struggled this year.

Most analyst focus on how the NFL has never seen a body or an athlete like Cam Newton. That is the source of superman’s power, his physique. Longevity, as his opponent in this year’s super bowl has shown, is cerebral.

The body will deteriorate and his mobility will become less of a threat. As that takes place it will highlight Cam’s shortcomings as a passer. This was expedited by Robert’s ACL injuries and his desire to work from a conventional NFL offense, one that he had no ability to run. As Robert thrived on a gimmick offense, Cam thrives on the crutch of his legs. When the inevitable time comes that defenses or his own limitations eliminate the run threat of Cam Newton, the Hollywood like supernova of Cam’s star will follow.

Off-field leadership is just as important as the on the field statistics. RGIII was a media darling during upswings, but as times got tough his previously confident actions and celebrations became arrogant and off putting. He alienated himself from teammates and repeatedly threw them under the bus. Nothing was Robert’s fault.

Similarly, will Cam’s “dabbing” and “contentious” celebrating become tired? If the Panther’s regress to 8-8, will Cam’s me-centric nature cause the media and fans to turn and call him selfish? More importantly, how will he react?

As we all know, winning cures everything and it can certainly change a narrative. Throughout Cam’s career, he’s always had the knock of being a sore loser and a bad leader during losses. The internet is littered with articles pre-2015 about Cam pouting on the sideline when the Panthers were losing.

The smile is brighter in 2015 with a 15-1 record; however, has the hero of our 2015 sequel changed? Has he grown?

The 2015 Panthers are significantly better than the 2012 Redskins, and when the eventual regression to the mean comes, Cam will lapse back to his actions that were so heavily criticized prior to this magical run. This time however, because the build was so much bigger and brighter, the fall will be just as extravagant.

 

Stats from pro-football-reference.com

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