Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been one of the most efficient passers in the NFL in the past five games, and his coaches credit improved decision making.
Since Week 11, Newton has a passer rating of 109.8, second only to Washington’s Robert Griffin III. Newton has thrown 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions. He has also run for three touchdowns.
Much of the success in the passing game, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said, comes from Newton’s willingness to find secondary targets.
“He’s really improved (in his decision making),” offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. “I’ve talked about Cam improving and that’s one area: not taking sacks, getting rid of the ball, checking it down, getting it to a second read.
“You saw some dump-offs to DeAngelo (Williams) or Mike Tolbert (Sunday at San Diego) or getting out of harm’s way and throwing the ball out of bounds.
“Those are the things quarterbacks do that can keep drives alive – minimize negative plays or not trying to force the ball and throw an interception. You’re stringing the plays together.”
An Observer review of every Newton pass during the past five games examined everything Chudzinski mentioned and more.
Newton entered Week 11 against Tampa Bay averaging 238 yards passing, with eight passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 77.2 passer rating. The Panthers were 2-7 at that point.
In the recent five-game span, Newton averaged 261.1 yards passing with 10 passing touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 109.8 passer rating. And the Panthers were 3-2
Newton has been very effective on passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, going 62-of-89 with four touchdowns.
Included in that total: Newton is 10-for-11 on screen passes, for 156 yards and two touchdowns. On dump-offs and check-downs to secondary receivers, Newton is 15-for-18 for 124 yards.
Newton’s 152 consecutive pass attempts without an interception is a franchise record, beating Jake Delhomme’s six-year-old mark. Newton’s is the longest active streak in the NFL.
Newton has been sacked just nine times in those five games, and hurried nearly 13 times per game.
Earlier this season, Newton threw crucial interceptions, against the Cowboys and Bears, when he was hit as he threw. But in this stretch, Newton has attempted 17 passes with seven completions for 138 yards and a touchdown when being hit.
Playing a large role in Newton’s lack of turnovers, Chudzinski said, are drills run by quarterbacks coach Mike Shula that simulate Newton’s check-downs and safety valve routes when under pressure. Newton must avoid backup quarterbacks Derek Anderson or Jimmy Clausen, acting as pass rushers, before finding his option.
Chudzinski said the drills, film study and in-game experience have allowed Newton to make those reads quicker.
“You have to see yourself on film making mistakes and you have to see situations where, ‘Oh if I would have just checked it down here,’ ” Chudzinski said. “And stressing with him over and over and over again, ‘Where’s my check-down, where’s my safety valve, where can I get the ball to if I need to get it out quickly?’ ”
Chudzinski said Newton still has a lot to improve on, including his mechanics. In the past five games he’s either overthrown, underthrown or been wide on a receiver on 32 attempts, or 21 percent of the time.
With this hot streak, Newton needs to average 172.5 passing yards over the last two games to break Peyton Manning’s NFL record for most passing yards in a quarterback’s first two seasons (7,874).
“He’s playing more consistent and I think he’s getting more confidence,” Chudzinski said. “Those are things that just start building and everything feeds off that.
“As you see yourself doing things and you see mistakes, hopefully you’re correcting them the next time they come up. And I think that’s clicking. You’re seeing Cam improve in those areas.”
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