Super Bowl 50 Preview

For a change, I am not spending a big chunk of my Saturday to write a really detailed Super Bowl preview on here, because I already contributed to one on Football Outsiders yesterday with Vincent Verhei. Please read that.

I did a lot of the intro, outlook and the section on Carolina’s offense vs. Denver’s defense in that one. I also wrote three other pieces this week in preparation for Super Bowl 50:

How much more really needs to be said? A seemingly record number of people are expecting Carolina to win anyway. While last year’s Super Bowl was about as 50/50 as it gets, both in the pre-game buildup and the actual outcome itself, this year is heavily slanted towards Carolina winning its first Super Bowl.

While Carolina should be the favorite and it feels like the Panthers should win, I still can see Denver pulling it off. Defense wins championships, right? The only problem is while Denver may have the best defense, Carolina is right behind them, and the offense is better. Every version of the Denver offense this year, whether it’s with a healthy Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler, an injured Manning or a conservative Manning at QB, has not been good. Yeah, there was a great game against Green Bay, but I’m talking about the overall picture. Now when you make this offense play the best defense it has seen all season, that’s a tough task. Carolina has more flexibility in ways to win this game, but greater upsets have happened before.

Key to the Game: Turnover Battle

From my Super Bowl XLVIII preview: “Turnovers are always huge in the Super Bowl. This is an area that strongly favors Seattle, which is +20 in turnover differential this season compared to 0 for Denver.”

Welp, not much has changed two years later. Carolina is a league-best +20 in turnover differential and Denver is minus-4. I cannot see Denver winning this game without winning the turnover battle. At most, the Broncos can afford one turnover in this game (assuming it’s minimal damage), which is probably going to happen since Carolina leads the league in takeaways. Whether it’s a random fumble or forcing Cam Newton into mistakes via pressure, the Broncos have to get the ball in some good field position for the offense. The offense absolutely cannot put the defense in bad spots with turnovers. That is what Carolina feasts on as it led the league in points scored off turnovers. The Panthers had the second-best starting field position in the league. This is not a legit No. 1 offense, but it can definitely score in the red zone (one area where Denver is nothing special) and take advantage of your mistakes.

DENTO

A bad start for Denver and the turnovers could come in bunches to make this a rout, but I really think this is a different team than the 43-8 disaster from two years ago.

But the easiest way to get a repeat of that game is to have turnovers. That is why a conservative approach to start the game may not be such a bad thing. Just getting the first snap off correctly this time would help. Two years ago, the Broncos were down 2-0 before even getting to run a real play. They were down 5-0 before Manning registered his first dropback. They were down 8-0 before he threw an incomplete pass. They were down 15-0 after his first mistake of the game (interception after quick edge pressure). They were down 22-0 after the second big mistake (the pick-six play after another quick edge pressure). Throw in Percy Harvin’s kick return TD to start the third quarter and the game was already over.

Denver needs to weather the early storm here, even if it means two three-and-outs to start the game. No early turnovers.

If Denver’s Offense Has a Chance…

More often than not, your team’s weaknesses bite you in the playoffs. For Denver, that would be the offensive line getting overwhelmed, stalling the run game and hurrying Manning into mistakes and sacks.

Carolina has a fast defense with studs up front, at linebacker and Josh Norman in the secondary. This is a really tough matchup, but I do see three reasons for hope that Denver can play a decent game against this unit.

Pressure

Everyone always compares Manning with Tom Brady on everything, but pressure is one area where I think people get it wrong. “You have to get interior pressure on Brady; he hates it the most because he can sidestep edge pressure, but he can’t step up in the pocket with guys in his face.” Fair enough, but for slow-footed quarterbacks, any quick edge pressure is still going to be a problem. You saw Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware converge on Brady at times in the AFC Championship Game.

I can give you an encyclopedia-like recall of Manning’s big losses when pressure was a problem, and it was essentially always quick edge pressure. We know he can get rid of the ball quickly, but when those guys are coming off the edge, even he can get sacked, or worse, hit as he throws for an interception. That happened to him three times in 2013 alone: 4QC attempt in Indy, 4QC attempt vs. San Diego and the aforementioned pick-six in Super Bowl XLVIII. Do you want more? Try Willie McGinnest unblocked on opening night in 2004. In 2005, it was San Diego’s Shawne Merriman and Pittsburgh’s Joey Porter causing the biggest problems off the edge. In 2007, Merriman beat Tony Ugoh at LT on a crucial fourth-and-goal play in the playoffs. In 2008, Tim Dobbins got around Gijon Robinson (forgot the snap count) to sack Manning on a 3rd-and-2 that could have ended the game.

It’s always the edge pressure, but Carolina does not have that great edge rusher. Jared Allen started 12 games this year, but he only has 2 sacks. This is not vintage Jared Allen, who is expecting to play after a recent injury.

Carolina’s best rush comes from the defensive line, and it’s defensive tackle Kawann Short, who had a breakout year with 11 sacks. You saw Short and the interior force Russell Wilson into that early pick-six a few weeks ago. But Denver’s strength up front is the interior guards with Evan Mathis and Louis Vasquez. If center Matt Paradis can hold up too, I don’t think Short is going to dominate this game like he could against a team like Seattle. Again, when has interior pressure owned Manning? I simply can’t recall it. It’s always the edges, which are not immune here, but that’s not where Carolina’s strength is this season. There isn’t a Julius Peppers on this defense.

Dictate Matchups in the Secondary

Josh Norman talks a big game and has backed it up with a breakout year. However, what bugs me about these corners is when they don’t shadow receivers all over the field. You move a guy into the slot and Norman treats it like a high-radiation area in Fallout 4. He stays away. That is why I think Denver can dictate its matchups against this secondary, which isn’t very good outside of Norman.

Norman can only cover one of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders at a time to begin with, but Denver should always be able to get their guy away from Norman by putting him in the slot, unless Carolina breaks tendency and has Norman shadow. On each play, I would have one of Sanders or Thomas in the slot. I don’t think Manning will challenge Norman a ton, but he’s not going to pull a 2010 Jets and just throw one pass to his main guy like he did to Reggie Wayne that night against Darrelle Revis. I think it’s a mistake to just submit to that matchup. Norman is not unbeatable, and I think Thomas’ size and Sanders’ speed can give him some problems. Thomas has been very disappointing this season, but maybe he lives up to the big contract with a memorable Super Bowl. It doesn’t even need to be 10-150-1, but just one big touchdown play like Julio Jones made in Week 16 against Carolina could be the difference. I said Denver should copy that game’s formula: shrink possessions by running a lot, do well on third downs and play great pass defense against Cam and challenge these receivers. Jones’ big play was the difference. Thomas can make that play if he plays up to his talent level.

Still, Sanders would be my main target (10+ times). If they can find ways to match Sanders up with Robert McClain (targeted like crazy since he was unemployed recently) or Cortland Finnegan, then Denver could be in good shape.

Then again, this secondary just held Arizona’s prolific trio of Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd to 9-of-23 for 90 yards. How much of that was Carson Palmer shitting the bed? Hard to say, but Wilson found some receivers wide open the week before once pressure calmed down. Manning has overthrown the deep balls all year, but he needs to hit one or two here.

Denver has tried to get everyone involved in the playoffs. Manning targeted 10 receivers against Pittsburgh and 11 against New England. I still like Bennie Fowler as the WR3, but it could be Jordan Norwood, Cody Latimer or Andre Caldwell at this point.

If there is a concern with this matchup, it would be throwing over the middle should that pressure up the middle come. Manning may get picked by Luke Kuechly, who has been great at that this year. But on the edges and seams, Denver should be able to dictate things better this week.

Bye Week and Health

Manning obviously needs all the rest he can get at this point of his career. His best game of the season was after the bye week against Green Bay. If that Manning shows up, Denver would be the favorites, but that was like a one-night thing this year. He also looked very sharp against Pittsburgh after the bye week, but 7-9 drops from his receivers hurt the stat line. If the receivers are catching what they should and Manning’s sharp again, then Gary Kubiak can open up the offense a bit more. I feel they play extra conservative at home, relying more on the crowd noise and defense.

On the other side, Thomas Davis (broken arm) is probably the big injury heading into this one. You can’t have a Super Bowl without a player trying to play with a serious injury. Those teams usually tend to lose too, because you need your best players healthy. Davis is the second-best linebacker on this team, but definitely a big part of the defense’s success. What’s going to happen if he whiffs on a tackle of C.J. Anderson or can’t pick off a pass that hits him? That arm could be a factor.

Denver should stick with the run regardless of effectiveness (target: 30 carries for 100 yards). Challenge Davis physically and see what happens if it’s still close in the fourth quarter. That’s what the Broncos need to do: get this one to the fourth quarter with a shot to win.

Close Game?

I would be a little surprised if this game was not competitive in the late stages. The only loss this year for Denver that was a blowout was Week 10 vs. Kansas City. Manning was injured and shouldn’t have played, and the same can be said for Sanders. Aqib Talib was suspended for his stupid eye poke the week before. Ware was out. Not to make excuses, but that game has no predictive power for Sunday night. It was the worst game of Manning’s career, but it was health related and KC pressured him over 50% of the time, which is unheard of. Since returning in Week 17, Manning has looked healthier and more capable of moving in the pocket, playing from under center, doing a rare bootleg, etc.. Otherwise, Denver lost to Oakland in a 15-12 game. That would not happen with a healthy Manning. He’s undefeated in games he finishes when his teams allow 0-16 points. There was the loss in Indy where the Broncos rallied from 17-0 down to a tie before losing 27-24. Then the Broncos blew a 17-point lead in Pittsburgh in a 34-27 loss. Again, not to make excuses, but Denver’s top three safeties were out and David Bruton played 70+ snaps with a broken leg. You saw the Patriots start to hit some plays down the field in the fourth quarter when Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward were both out with injuries. Their healthy returns for this SB are big. Safety play killed Arizona against Carolina, so Denver is going to need those guys to make a difference and not get fooled by watching Newton in the backfield.

Comebacks are rare in the Super Bowl, but both of these teams have erased multiple double-digit deficits this year, including three Denver wins after trailing by 14 points.

SBCB

Peyton Manning’s Legacy

I had to go back and read what I said two years ago when Denver was in the Super Bowl. I even had the same section heading before getting to my final prediction. At that time, I was definitely thinking more about what I wanted to see instead of what I expected to see from that game. I knew the only reason the Broncos were favored to beat Seattle was because of the season Manning had. The Seahawks were the better team. Denver didn’t have Von Miller or Chris Harris active. They never really breathed on Wilson that night. Manning needed to play a perfect game to win, and everything went off the rails from the first snap.

While a win and superb game that night would have been the ultimate way to retire on top, I don’t think retirement was as necessary for Manning two years ago. He could still play at a high level, as he did for the first half of the 2014 season. But watching the end of that season and this season, it is evident that Manning should retire after this game, win or lose. He hasn’t said it yet, but it just feels like such an obvious decision. His body cannot handle the grind of a full season anymore. The physical limitations are too much on the field now, and that’s why he’s needed this great defense to get to this point. I don’t think Kubiak’s done him a ton of favors by changing the offense, but Manning simply cannot do what he’s always done so well at a consistent level.

So more than ever I’m going into this game wanting to see him win, but knowing it’s an unlikely outcome. Carolina is favored for good reasons this time, and the ineffectiveness of this Denver offense is one of them.

It’s too Hollywood for Manning to have one last vintage performance and become the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, then promptly retire at midfield. It’s possible though, just not probable.  And it feels like the few people picking Denver are picking them for this reason (well, this and that defense). It’d be a great story.

It would also be a great way to further prove how winning Super Bowls are about team play. Manning could win a ring after having the worst season of his career. Sure, it may take a great Super Bowl performance from him to ultimately earn it — and he will have earned this ring– but he is never at this point without a full team effort, from the defense right down to backup Brock Osweiler keeping the team at a winning pace.

People want to compare this to past Super Bowls, I say look at the 1997 Broncos vs. Packers. Brett Favre was shooting for his second ring after his third MVP and was the hottest QB in the league. John Elway was old and still looking for his first ring as a huge underdog in the big game. Elway did not even play a good game by any means, but we all remember the helicopter spin he did, and how Terrell Davis carried the offense with an MVP performance. Denver pulled off the upset, and that might be the way to do it again this week. Have someone like C.J. Anderson step up as the MVP. Let Manning just manage the game instead of putting everything on his shoulders like his past Super Bowls.

Getting a second ring, a winning playoff record (14-13), maybe another game MVP award, and becoming the first QB to win Super Bowls with different teams would all be an outstanding way for Manning to walk away from the game. However, he’s probably best equipped to get those things by doing less and getting more from his teammates. Doing less should not enhance your legacy, but that’s the kind of odd situation we arrive at when it comes to rings.

If anyone ever deserved a break in the playoffs and a win on the backs of his teammates, it’s Manning.

Final Prediction

I just want to see a good game, but I’m not overly confident about that.

Final score: Panthers 23, Broncos 16

NFL Week 14 Predictions and the Saints’ Superdome Dominance

I have been getting the “big games” correct lately, though the Patriots did not finish the job in Carolina. Still, that game provides part of the reason why I expect the Saints to beat Carolina on Sunday night. Until the last drive, which called for some desperate throws, Tom Brady picked apart the Panthers’ suspect secondary all night. The Patriots are the best passing team Carolina has played all season, which says a lot since it’s the worst New England passing offense since 2006.

The only other respectable passing game Carolina saw was Seattle in Week 1. While the Seahawks put up 12 points, Russell Wilson was 25-of-33 passing for 320 yards and a game-winning touchdown pass. Carolina enters on a nice eight-game winning streak, but the three wins against teams .500 or better came by a combined 9 points.

Playing a top quarterback makes a difference. Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs. While both games against Brady and Wilson were at home for Carolina, Sunday will be in New Orleans in the Superdome against Sean Payton and Drew Brees. Given how poor the effort was in Seattle on Monday night, expect a much better performance. The Panthers do not have the secondary to match what Seattle did.

Brees is typically lights out in these situations going back to 2006:

BreesSD

The very first game on the list was the emotional return to the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina. It was a great night for the Saints, but it was actually one of the weaker offensive performances on the list. The nine games since 2011 have been freakishly good, and there’s no great explanation for it. Four of those last nine wins were against playoff teams and that number could grow to five or six depending on how Miami and Dallas finish this year.

A Thursday game is beneficial to the home team in terms of not having to travel on a short week. A Monday game would give the Saints an extra day of preparation, which benefits the best-coached teams. But there’s no real reason the Saints should be any better at a Sunday prime-time game than the Sunday 1-4 p.m. games.

This season the Saints are 6-0 at home and four of the wins have been against teams .500 or better. Sean Payton has won his last 15 home games, dating back to 2011.

I have never been to New Orleans, but the atmosphere down there for a prime-time game seems like it would be more beneficial than for most teams. That’s why home-field advantage was so crucial for this team and why Monday was such a letdown, but truthfully it was always going to be a struggle to get the No. 1 seed. The Saints likely have to take care of Carolina twice just to win the NFC South, so this game is the most important one in the regular season for New Orleans. Forget about Monday. I’m sure the Saints have and will until they have to return to Seattle.

I’m not expecting Carolina to get blown out like many teams do in New Orleans, and that’s a tribute to the No. 1 scoring defense. But if the Saints handle this week the way they usually do against a Carolina team with flaws that have rarely been taken advantage of, it’s going to be a long night for the Panthers.

Final prediction: Panthers 17, Saints 28

NFL Week 14 Predictions

Apparently I am done picking the Texans again this season. Good lord…

  • Dolphins at Steelers
  • Browns at Patriots
  • Bills at Buccaneers
  • Raiders at Jets
  • Falcons at Packers
  • Chiefs at Redskins
  • Vikings at Ravens
  • Colts at Bengals
  • Lions at Eagles
  • Titans at Broncos
  • Seahawks at 49ers
  • Rams at Cardinals
  • Giants at Chargers
  • Panthers at Saints
  • Cowboys at Bears

Okay, including the fact Jacksonville already won, I have home teams going 15-1 by my picks. I’m totally screwed here. Just based on this simple fact, I’m going to change a few picks, so here are my official choices:

  • Dolphins at Steelers
  • Browns at Patriots
  • Bills at Buccaneers
  • Raiders at Jets (You’ve seen the Jets offense, right?)
  • Falcons at Packers (GB can’t win one without Aaron Rodgers)
  • Chiefs at Redskins
  • Vikings at Ravens
  • Colts at Bengals
  • Lions at Eagles
  • Titans at Broncos
  • Seahawks at 49ers
  • Rams at Cardinals
  • Giants at Chargers (Eli Manning finally gets a win over the Chargers)
  • Panthers at Saints
  • Cowboys at Bears (the real Josh McCown returns)

Okay, that looks better, even if I don’t feel any better about it.

Season results:

  • Week 1: 11-5
  • Week 2: 12-4
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 9-6
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 11-4
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-3
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 8-6
  • Week 11: 9-6
  • Week 12: 7-6-1
  • Week 13: 11-5
  • Season: 123-68-1

Patriots Should Know Pass Interference Well

Yes, another controversial NFL ending took place on Monday night when Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly grabbed New England tight end Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on the final play. The ball was underthrown anyway and intercepted, but there was a flag thrown that was picked up for the pass being uncatchable, so no pass interference. Game over.

By the laws of physics, it really was uncatchable as Gronkowski’s momentum led him to the back of the end zone and he was not expecting such an underthrown pass.

Some people — let’s call them Patriot fans– want to contest that they’ve never seen a team get away with being able to block a receiver out of the play and that it’s okay to call uncatchable because an underthrown pass was intercepted.

Well, they must have forgotten the 2010 season:

PM10

Peyton Manning had the Colts on a comeback attempt, but when he was hit as he threw the ball, it was well underthrown to the intended target, who was Pierre Garcon. That target was also grabbed by the defense, but at least Garcon tries to come back to the ball, which is something Gronkowski never did. The defensive back also had to reach up much higher to make this interception than the Carolina play. Given the reach for the pick and Garcon’s movement, this play was just as close if not closer than what happened Monday night.

Live by the sword, die by the sword. Maybe Gronkowski should have pushed someone in the end zone like he did in 2011 to free himself for a touchdown on fourth down against the Giants. We know referees are afraid to make the big calls.

Gronkd

Carolina Panther Fans: You Can’t Handle the Truth

Though becoming much preachier in recent years, Aaron Sorkin delivered gold with this line from A Few Good Men, and Jack Nicholson immortalized it on the screen.

Not only was it a classic moment in film history, but the line itself can be thrown back at many people out there who clearly can’t handle the truth when it comes to hearing valid criticism of their favorite athletes.

Since I started writing football articles, I have received almost zero criticism from anyone. There was one Saints fan that was probably just drunk at 3 a.m. and mistakenly thought I put down Brees, but that was about it.

People that know my work know I turn in-depth research into quality writing as well as anyone out there. I have established a standard for myself, and refuse to put out something in my name that does not live up to that standard.

Enter my articles on Cam Newton (one, and two), and I saw how the other side lives. There was a huge negative response, but it was concentrated from the Carolina fan base. Look at this gem from Twitter. People like that led the way that day.

In other words, it was a homer attack that I could give two shits about. I know what I wrote, and I know what research I had to write what I did.

It is easy to see what’s going on here. Carolina fans have zero experience in having a franchise QB to root for. Steve Beuerlein’s one year of greatness? Jake Delhomme’s solid play for a few years? No. This is different with Newton.

The Panther fans have their binky now, and they love their binky, and will say anything to protect him.

THE SECOND WAVE

So after Monday’s article, the second wave came, but this time it was different. Now I had other writers responding to what I wrote with their own article. This takes it beyond “random Twitter asshole.”

First, Jimmy Grappone put this piece together last night on Bleacher Report. It really doesn’t refute my articles, and I noticed he made mention of Jaworski’s QB ranking ofNewton as No. 15 in the league. That is fine, but my beef is with the other lists and much higher rankingsNewton was given from other sources. Jaworski’s ranking is more in touch with reality. Contributor Hank Kimball’s comment at the bottom sums up the rest of my feelings towards this one.

Then I awoke today to find someone I never heard of on a site I never visit call me lazy.

L-A-Z-Y.

That’s a new one. You can call me a lot of things, but lazy is not one of them. At least not when it comes to researching and writing.

He didn’t mention me by name, and I will offer him the same courtesy here.

You can choose to read the article here. Or, you can just allow me to demonstrate how the pot called the kettle black, and show just how lazy this piece was.

(Guess starting this blog last week was good timing)

I’M LAZY?

This is not something I normally will plan to do – I normally never would have to – but if you are going to attack my work, I will make it a point to show just how bad yours is. Just how lazy the research, or lack thereof, was.

First, he even begins his article with “As a writer there are few things more important than holding your tongue if you haven’t done the adequate research needed to cover a topic.”

The “I watched every play” defense is always laughable. Great, you were a fan and watched your team’s 16 games each week. Welcome to the club of millions that did the same.

Now did you go back and watch the game again? Did you supplement the shaky eye test with indisputable data? Or are you just going all by memory of a game you saw one time with a biased interest as a fan?

Lazy Statement No. 1 – “As the season progressed we saw Jonathan Stewart given more and more short-yardage carries.”

This is exactly what I’m talking about with hard data versus fluffy memories. This was in response to me saying Newton’s rushing TD record was a fluke. Jonathan Stewart was not given more carries near the goal line as the season progressed.

Inside the 10-yard line last year, Newton had 23 carries to 10 for Stewart. I think a logical split would be the first eight games vs. last eight games (not to mention Carolina had a bye after the 8th game).

In the first eight games, Newton had 16 of the 25 carries (64%), and Stewart had 8 (32%). In the last eight games, Newton had 7 of the 16 carries (43.8%), and Stewart had two (12.5%).

Those TWO goal line carries Stewart had in the second half of the season must have really resonated with this fan.

The player that actually was given more carries was DeAngelo Williams, who had six carries in the second half of the season, after just one in the first half.

Either way, Newton was still the No. 1 option for Carolina in this situation.

Misconceived Statement No. 2– “There’s no single statement that makes blood shoot out of my orifices faster than reading pieces that refer to Cam Newton as a ‘running QB’. That statement alone should be a bellwether than the writer didn’t watch him play.”

What we have here is a failure to understand averages. A running quarterback does not mean it is someone who has more carries than pass attempts (or close to a 50/50 split). A running quarterback is someone who is more likely to take off and run than the average (pocket) quarterback.

Newtonhad 126 carries in 2011, which are the second most in NFL history for a QB. Not even Michael Vick has topped that number.

Meanwhile your pocket passers like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees average well under 40 attempts a season, and many of those are kneel downs to secure a win (not many of those included in Newton’s season).

When someone is much more likely to take off and run, not to mention have the most designed running plays in the league, then it’s clear they are a running quarterback.

That does not mean they can’t throw or don’t throw. Only an idiot would take that angle from it.

Last season Matthew Stafford ran on just 3.1% of his drop backs. Newton ran on 18.6% of his drop backs. Big difference.

Same thing in basketball with outside shooters.

LeBron James averages 4.0 attempts per game from 3-pt territory in his career. That’s almost as many as Kyle Korver (4.1). So why is James not considered a 3-pt shooter like Korver? James makes .331 of them, compared to .413 for Korver. He is inefficient at doing it, and it is a much lower percentage of his overall attempts.

And while I never specifically said running quarterbacks are figured out quickly in the NFL, there is no denying players like Michael Vick, Kordell Stewart, Aaron Brooks, and Vince Young were successful early, but failed to improve their game. Players like Randall Cunningham and Steve McNair played their best when they stayed in the pocket later in their careers.

I think Newton has a better chance than those players, but there is zero to suggest he’s going to automatically be a better passer this year.

Lazy Statement No. 3 – “It’s the same thing we saw from Ben Roethlisberger his rookie year, when he ran 56 times (a mark he’s never matched again). Like Roethlisberger it’s likelyCam will take that next step where he’s more willing to stand in the pocket and look at every single read before leaving, rather than taking off before every option is examined.”

If you know about Ben Roethlisberger, then you know he hates to scramble. He always wants to throw the ball, and looks downfield for the big play first and foremost.

Roethlisberger was not often scrambling in his rookie season. He was kneeling down on his way to a 13-0 record as a starter.

27 of Roethlisberger’s 56 runs in 2004 were kneel downs. That means he attempted to throw the ball on 8.2% of his drop backs. That is more than a pocket passer like Stafford, but still nowhere near the level of Newton.

Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers use their legs, but still look to throw.Newton is more likely to run at this point of his career.

You cannot call Newton a typical pocket passer, so he gets the earned distinction of a running quarterback.

Lazy Statement No. 4 – “The Panthers Newton-led offense managed to eek out six wins in spite of an atrocious defense.”

This is a common mistake many writers make. They take a team’s bad statistic and apply it to the full season, completely ignoring what happened in said wins.

For example, the 2006 Indianapolis Colts had a very poor regular season defense, but they played great for 3.5 of the playoff games, and that helped the team win Super Bowl XLI.

Newton never overcame an atrocious defense for a single win in 2011.

When the team allowed more than 20 points, they were 0-10. They were 6-0 when allowing 20 points or fewer, and they only managed that against bad offenses with an inexperienced quarterback starting.

Considering Josh Johnson, Curtis Painter and John Beck are a combined 0-20 in the NFL as starters, Newton better have led his team to a win in those games.

Five of the six quarterbacks Carolina beat in 2011 were making their 1st-to-8th career start in the NFL Only Josh Freeman (39th start) was experienced, and he had a bad season.

The Panthers also only won when Newton took on more of a game manager role. They were 5-1 in his games with the fewest passing yards.

  • If you have, at best, league-average passing stats (pick any site and metric)…
  • If you have an absurdly inflated rushing touchdown record…
  • If you fail more often than you succeed in the clutch…
  • If you can only win when the defense shuts down subpar offenses…

Then clearly, you are not the greatest rookie ever, and far from a top 10 (or higher) quarterback in this league.

You are overrated.

Conclusion

It’s a new age for Carolina Panthers football. But their fans are going to have to start accepting the truth. Your quarterback is far from perfect. Far from being accomplished in this league too.

I did not have to pull things out of thin air or fabricate anything to make my points. The facts are the facts. If Newton has a great 2012, then fine. He’ll no longer be overrated (unless of course people start putting him even higher than he deserves again).

But what he does in 2012 will not change the fact his 2011 was a vastly overrated season.

People that rely solely on the eye test are always going to be lacking in the facts department. That’s the whole problem with the eye test. You see what you want to see, and it’s even worse when you are a fan of that team.

While you should supplement watching games with the data, some people seem to think their eyes and memories are all they need. Facts? Well we will just make some generalizations and that should work for most of the sheep.

Now that’s being lazy.

The Number 23

…was a crappy effort from Joel Schumacher.

Besides that, as people fawn over Cam Newton’s 14 rushing touchdowns, I am looking more at the number 23, which represents how many carries he had inside the 10-yard line last year. That’s 10 more carries than the next closest QB had in the entire red zone (Tim Tebow, 13).

Newton scored 9 touchdowns on these 23 carries, which is a far cry from say, Tim Tebow scoring 9 TDs on 11 carries.

In my latest article at Bleacher Report, Why Cam Newton’s NFL Record for QB Rushing Touchdowns Is a Fluke, I came up with a table to show Newton’s efficiency compared to the other leading active QBs with 10+ career rushing touchdowns.

It turns out Newton was less efficient than I thought.

Jets could be interesting. That is 20/26 combined there for Tebow & Sanchez.

Newton’s record might be safe for a long time, because which coaching staff is going to be nuts enough to expose their QB to this many hits on purpose in the red zone? Of the 23 carries, 19 were designed runs.

Mike Tolbert might have signed up for the wrong job if Carolina thinks about going back to this offense in 2012. Not to mention you still have Williams and Stewart.

Praise the record if you want, but just remember the important context behind it.