Each week, Chad Pennington will break down a dynamic NFL playmaker or scheme, devise a game plan and discuss a strategy for success. This week, Pennington looks into how he would defend against Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Meanwhile, former defensive standout John Lynch breaks down Tom Brady's game.
There’s no doubt that physical talent is key to being a quarterback in the NFL, but talent alone doesn’t separate the good quarterbacks from the great ones. The great ones share a few unique characteristics. One such characteristic is the ability to remain calm under intense pressure.
You can’t teach that.
Carolina’s quarterback Cam Newton has certainly dazzled in his first two NFL games. Through his first two games, he’s thrown for 854 yards, an NFL record for a rookie, with three touchdowns. But from what I’ve seen so far of the Panthers’ rookie, I have been impressed with his ability to handle defensive pressure.
But don’t take my word for it. Green Bay nose tackle B.J. Raji said as much last weekend after the Packers’ 30-23 win over Carolina. "I knew he would be good, but if I told you I knew he’d be this good this early, I’d be lying to you," Raji said after the game. "He doesn’t get frustrated. We threw a lot of stuff at him and he was able to sit back there and make some of the plays they needed."
When a quarterback is bothered by defensive pressure, his physical talent can’t take over. You see many quarterbacks in the NFL with a ton of talent, but they’re not as successful as their talent would suggest.
I think being calm and poised is more important than raw talent. While being calm in the pocket, it is imperative that you process the information after the snap of the ball. Questions must be answered. Is there pressure? Where’s the pressure coming from? Can we block it? If we can’t, who is my hot receiver? What coverage is it? Is it man or zone? And the list goes on and on!
The great ones have the ability to answer these questions, go through their reads, and then deliver the ball with accuracy and timing. This is normally done while maneuvering in the pocket, keeping your eyes downfield, and probably taking a nice body shot when its all said and done.
My assignment this week: Game plan for Cam Newton and the Panthers offense vs. Jacksonville.
Preparation for each week’s game is much more intense in the NFL than in college. That’s probably the biggest adjustment Newton has had to make coming from college. Talking to him during week 1, Cam mentioned the intensity of preparation in the NFL. He said that class can no longer be an excuse for leaving a meeting or the complex early. It’s not only the preparation that’s intense, it’s the time spent as well. Time management is key for a young quarterback. Learning how to be a “Pro” isn’t learned overnight. It’s a journey and an ongoing process.
I know Carolina lost its first two games, but if I’m the offensive coordinator for the Panthers, I’m not sure I change much. Their offensive approach has been extremely effective.
One would think that defenses would focus on the running game with a rookie quarterback behind center. I have been impressed with Newton’s first and second down production using the play-action pass. The Panthers have been able to gain chunks of yardage with downfield play-action passes. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has moved Cam in and out of the pocket with these plays. His launch point is different for each concept; he’s not just setting up in the pocket at eight yards every play. Changing the launch point of the quarterback affects the defense and their rush ability.
Defenders are unable to target one, specific spot. If a quarterback’s launch point changes, the defensive rush lanes change as well which creates a sense of abnormality and inconsistency for pass rushers.
In Weeks 1 and 2, Newton had numerous launch points. Against the Packers, he rolled to the right sideline and threw a strike to Steve Smith on the left sideline for a first down. That’s definitely something you don’t see every week.
What I’ve noticed is that Newton really wants to be a passer first and a runner second. I can tell he really takes pride in being a successful quarterback and not just a successful athlete who plays quarterback.
Trust me, there’s a difference.
After throwing three interceptions through three quarters in the Green Bay game, I saw Cam display another important characteristic, coachability. He started using his check downs and shorter routes more when his deeper routes weren’t open.
A few of these check downs were open earlier in the game when the interceptions were thrown. He was able to apply the coaching and learn from the interceptions quickly. You’d be surprised at how many players can’t apply coaching and make adjustments during a game.
Every play is a learning experience and teaching tool for Cam. I can see him figuring out the NFL game one play at a time. What throws can I make? What throws must I eliminate? When do I take a chance? When do I not push the envelope? A young quarterback learns that certain throws cannot be made in the NFL. Why? NFL defenders are savvy, older, and have seen it all.
After two games, Jacksonville has the fifth ranked defense in the NFL concerning total yards. Compared to what Cam has seen from the Cardinals and the Packers, the Jags’ scheme will not appear as complicated. Typically, a Del Rio defense likes to rush with four defensive linemen and play a two-safety coverage. They believe in playing fundamentally sound and letting the offense make the mistakes. These two-safety coverages consist of pure zone defenders, matchup zones (similar to basketball defenses) or man coverage.
Cam’s patience will be tested because he may not see as many 1-on-1 opportunities with his receivers. However, Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen could see plenty of 1-on-1 coverage. Also, he may have to use his running backs and underneath routes when his intermediate and deeper routes are double covered. Note to Cam: Be aware of Rashean Mathis. This guy is outstanding in zone coverages. He is crafty and shows up where you least expect him. In Week 2, he intercepted Mark Sanchez by leaving his responsibility on the outside receiver and robbing the inside receiver of a third down conversion.
Being calm and cool will be the key. Cam Newton has shown he has that.