Cam Newton is crushing the NFL the same way he crushed the SEC
To anyone who watched college football and especially the SEC in 2010, what’s happening in the NFL right now probably looks very familiar.
Cam Newton is dominating like no Heisman Trophy winner has in decades. On Saturday, Newton was named the NFL’s MVP. He became the first Heisman winner to earn league MVP in almost 20 years since 1997 when Barry Sanders won it.
In the Carolina Panthers’ last 10 games as they have steamrolled their way to the Super Bowl, Newton has produced an amazing 31 touchdowns (24 passing and seven rushing) against just two interceptions. In the regular season, Newton accounted for 45 TDs — 35 passing and 10 rushing — for a team that led the NFL in scoring at 31.6 points per game.
"The big thing is — and everybody loses sight of this — I don’t think people realize just how big he is until you get next to him and see him standing next to D-linemen and linebackers,” said one NFL linebackers coach who used to coach in the SEC. “This isn’t Robert Griffin III running around at 6-2, 220. This guy is all of 6-5, 250 and when he runs the ball, he’s the one delivering blows. In the league of freak athletes, he is the freakiest athlete of them all.”
The NFL assistant watched Sunday’s Cardinals-Panthers NFC Championship Game from home and noted one specific example of what makes Newton so unique. The Panthers were in third-and-goal at the Cardinals’ 1-yard line. They motioned a player out of the backfield to create a double-wing. “Cam goes shotgun, as soon as I saw that, I said ‘Here comes the QB power, and you can’t stop that play unless they (Carolina) have a complete bust.’
"Arizona had good line surge and knocked him back. They did everything the right way and he still scored. He’s just too big and too explosive an athlete.”
The coach said it’s not just Newton’s running ability as a red-zone weapon that makes him such a headache for rival defenses. "The playmaking intangible he brings to games is something you can’t measure in practice,” he said. “Ben Roethlisberger is that big but he can’t run like Cam.”
As I said on Twitter on Sunday, Newton now is doing to the NFL what he did to the SEC in 2010, when Auburn led the conference in total offense, yards per play and third-down percentage. What’s made him an MVP is the way he’s continued to develop as a QB.
Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah, who works for NFL Network as a draft analyst and recently did a piece on Newton’s evolution going back to his days in junior college, said the biggest difference in the Auburn great from college to now is the quarterback’s ability to maneuver inside the pocket.
“He’s really gotten good at buying depth, shuffling around and making stuff happen," said Jeremiah, a former college QB. "There’s nothing he can’t do. He’s taking better care of the football. He’s being selectively aggressive and knowing when to take his shots."
What makes the Carolina offense so vexing is the myriad of ways the Panthers staff has added window-dressing to their play-calling, much like Gus Malzahn did as Auburn’s offensive coordinator when Newton was his triggerman and had defenses on their heels all the time.
"Nobody has that much run game (stuff) as Carolina. Nobody,” Jeremiah said. “They can really negate the speed of the defense because you can mess with their eyes. When they played Seattle the first time (this season), their linebackers literally couldn’t find the football.”
Jeremiah said when Carolina runs plays with wideouts buzzing around, defenders are thinking, Is the fly sweep coming? You have guys pulling all over over the place. Linebackers heads are on a swivel and then it’s Holy Crap! Cam still has the ball!
“That’s the stress of defending the Panthers,” said the NFL linebackers coach. “You have all those plays and if your eyes aren’t in the right spot, you don’t have a chance.”
In that regard, the coach said it reminds him of Newton’s days at Auburn. He said when they evaluated one SEC linebacker, they ended up disregarding his film against Auburn because of all the false keys and misdirection. “It really slowed him down and he couldn’t figure out what to do. We watched the rest of the film we had on him and we thought he was a very good player,” he said about a guy who has gone on to make numerous Pro Bowls.
The coach added he doesn’t think what Carolina is doing will end up being that pervasive around the NFL. Why not?
"Because no one else has Cam Newton.”
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FS1. He is also a New York Times best-selling author. His latest book, “The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks,” came out in October 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB and Facebook.