Hurley: Yes, Cam Newton Is Capable Of Quarterbacking A Potent Patriots Offense In 2021
By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- I can't believe I have to do this. I can't believe you're making me do this. This is willingly signing up to enter dangerous territory, fraught with nastiness and vitriol and YELLING. Volunteering to enter this thunderdome is madness.
Nevertheless, here I am -- defending Cam Newton.
Really, I'm left with no other choice. It's not that a 30-something-year-old multi-millionaire needs to be defended. And it's not that Cam was particularly good at throwing footballs in 2020.
It's more about this one line, this one criticism, that's been repeated so many times that it's seemingly coming to be accepted as truth. Turn on the radio, and you hear it from the hosts and the callers. Fire up the Twitter machine, and you'll see it 16 times in the replies to any tweets mentioning the Patriots' additions at offensive skill positions.
That line? It's some variation of this:
No additions matter if Cam is just going to throw the ball into the dirt every play.
This notion -- that Cam Newton is only capable of firing footballs into rubber pellets -- has become so pervasive that it's simply inescapable. I'd provide you with examples of people saying this directly to me, just to show that this is not some straw man case, but I don't particularly want to pick on any one individual. This is a larger matter, one that has seemingly spread beyond control.
And whenever a common belief reaches this level while being inaccurate, I feel compelled to try to swim upstream and correct the record. So here we go.
Obviously, Cam Newton was not a top-of-the-league passer last year. And he made a number of throws that were terrifically ugly. Like this one:
Or this one:
There were also times where you could clearly see just from watching the TV copy that Cam was processing and not playing. The end result in such scenarios tended to be a sack, or a scramble, or a forgettable play en route to a drive-ending punt.
The Patriots' passing offense was abysmal in 2020, and Newton was a big reason why. It's possible that he'll struggle again in that regard in 2021. Sure.
But this idea that Newton is physically incapable of completing passes has gone too far.
From a stats perspective, he did complete 65.8 percent of his passes. That was the second-highest mark of his career. He ranked 14th in the NFL (among QBs with at least 350 attempts) in that category. That's not amazing, but it was better than Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Tannehill, Matt Ryan, reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, and Baker Mayfield, among others. A team can win with a quarterback who completes two out of every three passing attempts.
On a volume level, Newton threw for 2,657 yards, which ranked 24th in the NFL. It was not special.
On a per-pass basis, he averaged 7.2 yards per attempt. He ranked 18th in the NFL under the 350-attempt parameters, which again is not special. It was still better than Jared Goff, Kyler Murray, and Roethlisberger, among others.
And the story of statistics cannot be told without addressing the lack of pass-catching options. With Julian Edelman missing most of the season, the top targets on the outside were Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd. The tight end position was a dead spot, with Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene failing to make an impact as rookies and with Ryan Izzo accumulating 25 percent of his season total in receiving yards on one single Hail Mary that was caught 12 yards short of the end zone.
It's not apples to apples, but look at what Tom Brady did in 2019 (with a similar crew) and in 2020 (with talented receivers). Brady upped his average yards per attempt by a full yard, going from 6.6 in 2019 to 7.6 in 2020. He also went from 24 touchdowns in 2019 to 40 touchdowns in 2020 -- a 67 percent increase. That's bananas.
Newton won't exactly have an Evans/Godwin/Gronk/AB smorgasbord at his disposal in 2021, but the depth chart is already significantly better than it was a year ago. Expect the stats to climb.
But all of that is just stats. Stats are boring. Stats can be manipulated. They're just stats.
Physically, it's important to note that ... Cam can still throw a football. His delivery is different, and sometimes he misfires. But the man ... can throw ... a football.
This is hardly a comprehensive evaluation of every single throw, but nevertheless, I felt compelled to provide some visual evidence of this phenomenon. See for yourself.
This is an accurate pass.
So was this one. Unfortunately for Byrd, it was too accurate.
Here's another drop for you:
This pass won't knock your socks off, but it's one that the voices on the radio would have you believe Newton cannot make.
Great adjustment by Byrd here, but Cam did a good job of getting the football where it needed to go:
How different is the overall narrative if Edelman's able to squeeze this, which would have been the game-winning touchdown in Seattle?
This is a special play. If you don't think so, you can shut your lips, buddy.
Hitting a crosser in stride is a valuable ability:
This pass was perfect. Simply put.
Here's a professional football throw.
This one just rocks:
This is what happened in the rare instance when a Patriots receiver actually gained some separation from his defender:
One of Cam's tougher completions:
A bullet through traffic:
A 20-yard throw to an open receiver:
Here's a play that not many human beings can make.
Here's Cam's final touchdown pass of the year. It went do Devin Asiasi. The guy was wide open, yeah. But he got him the football.
There you go.
A bunch of passes that this region swears didn't happen.
But they did! They happened, pal!
That's not to say that Newton was deserving of the MVP award or anything. It is to say ... hey, buckaroo. Maybe with these talented players in the offense, he actually can have a better passing season.
As previously noted, Newton undoubtedly murdered a few worms last season. He also put water boys and towel attendants in harm's way with some floaters toward the sideline. But ... every quarterback throws incompletions. Most full-time starting quarterbacks threw more incompletions than Newton a year ago. Yet rarely does the consensus opinion focus only on the bad passes. That no doubt takes place with Newton.
Nobody is pretending like the bad passes didn't happen. But seemingly everybody is pretending like the good ones didn't.
As for the overall offense, the Patriots actually are formidable, even with Newton as the quarterback. For one, the NFL's fourth-best rushing offense will improve on the ground. Damien Harris is ready for a full-time role, fullback/enormous human Dan Vitale is returning from his COVID opt-out, Trent Brown is back and playing for another contract, and the Mike Onwenu pick makes the loss of Joe Thuney palatable.
They're also going to be a better passing offense, without a doubt. While Cam's 8-to-10 TD-to-INT ratio is one of the most bizarre stat lines ever authored on an NFL field, he was on a team with guys who just don't get open and catch touchdowns. Seriously.
Rex Burkhead, the team's leader with three touchdown receptions, tied his career-high in that category. N'Keal Harry, who is clearly not the red zone threat the Patriots hoped he would be, was the only other player with two touchdowns. Damiere Byrd, one of Cam's favorite weapons, had caught more than one touchdown in a season just once in his four-year career before joining the Patriots. Jakobi Meyers developed a rapport with Brady in 2019, but he still didn't catch a touchdown. Even Julian Edelman -- far and away the Patriots' best receiver prior to getting hurt and missing the final 10 games -- isn't exactly a major touchdown threat; he averaged a respectable-but-not-overwhelming five touchdowns per season from 2012-19. His career high in a season is seven.
Now the Patriots have Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and Nelson Agholor, all of whom have an eight-touchdown season under their belts. Nobody on the 2020 roster could say the same. For Smith and Agholor, those 8-TD seasons came just last year.
Translation: Newton -- who carefully and respectfully never threw any of his teammates under the bus during or after last season -- finally has some weapons to catch some touchdowns.
And yes, he can get them the ball. He will not be the very best passer in the National Football League, but he can get the football to his receivers.
It's OK to take an optimistic viewpoint on the Patriots' offense in 2021. Really, it is. You don't need to let the misguided general consensus bring you down.
You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.
(GIFs from NFL.com/GamePass)
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