Cam Newton has been the story of the early week with his comments on how hits are called (or not) against him in a ‘player safety is important’ kind of environment.
Even when the Carolina Panthers win, there seems to be some issue about Cam Newton. The Panthers quarterback led the team to enough offense to hold off the Arizona Cardinals, but somehow the story of the game became how the referees call hits on Cam.
In what has been a trend this season, teams have decided hitting Cam is the way to take him out of his game. It was on display visibly in Denver, and Newton didn’t do himself any favors by taking his eye of the play in Atlanta. It is probable that Newton’s carelessness cost the Panthers the Tampa Bay game simply by Newton not being there.
Newton came away from the Cardinals game with more concern about how referees call hits against him. This time he had more ammo. While he had the bad luck to get hit on another play where the Panthers offense had committed elsewhere, one missed call by the refs was inexcusable.
Calais Campbell came low on Newton’s ankles and nothing was called. Ironically the whole reason it should have been called was standing on the other sideline. Carson Palmer saw his career drastically turn because of a low hit by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the same kind of way. Newton could have had his knee blown out. No flag.
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Some believe that Newton gets Shaq treatment. The idea there is that Newton is so big and strong that the rulebook is different for him than other players. As the refs did not call so many fouls by players on Shaq, they don’t charge defenses for hits on Newton.
Personally that idea does not get too far with me. Newton is a fascinating pro player, but he is not the first quarterback to play somewhere near 245 lbs. Daunte Culpepper played the game fifteen pounds heavier than Cam. His size did not prevent him from having a career altering injury. That was the Panthers who hurt him by the way.
No, I think the referees are guilty of something else. Early this year I wrote off the idea that Newton was mistreated for some individual reason when the Panthers played the Broncos. I wrote that the refs were just giving too much respect to the Broncos defense and therefore called only one of the four headshots Newton took.
Now I think there is a difference for Newton. It is a difference shared by a handful of others, probably Michael Vick is the easiest example. Teams probably complained about the zone read and reminded the NFL that Newton is a runner and they could not let a halo around him drive the Panthers down the field. Runners aren’t due extra protection that defenseless passers are. And Newton could in theory run at any time.
So now you have to get the mind of the NFL ref. You have a number of things to keep track of on the field. Now you have to use a wait and see approach with Newton because he might run
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To make sure that you don’t give Newton too much benefit of the doubt (quarterback safety is supposed to be a league focus after all), you simply are less attentive to the moments when Newton should be protected as a defenseless player and focus elsewhere. It isn’t intentional so much as it is a natural result of other teams’ preemptive concerns.
Critics of Cam miss the point when they tell him to stop talking. Cam’s concerns line up with supposed league concerns. Any progress Newton makes through this will improve the welfare of all quarterbacks.
Even tackle Marcus Gilbert of the Steelers must recognize that though Ben Roethlisberger ‘quietly’ takes all those hits, the Steelers did lose Roethlisberger to just such a low hit at a crucial time just last season. Let’s see how this plays out. Newton may not be making friends on other teams, but he might save their own signal callers some pain.