Cam Newton is still just a rookie, and a former running quarterback in college, at that. Statistically speaking, he’s playing behind a line that has been either atrocious or below-average at pass protection over the past two seasons.
So the eight sacks he endured in his first two games as a pro were merely a sign of things to come, right?
As well-documented as his eye-popping yardage and touchdown totals have been (and rightfully so), the numbers show that what Newton hasn’t been doing—taking sacks—has been nearly as impressive as anything about his first five games.
The rookie from Auburn was sacked four times apiece in the first two weeks of his career, but has been sacked just once in the last three weeks.
Remember that we’re talking about a guy playing behind essentially the same line that gave up sacks on 9.4 percent of pass attempts in 2009 (second-worst in the league), and on 6.6 of them a year ago—half a point worse than the NFL average.
According to www.pro-football-reference.com, Newton’s current sack percentage—how many times he is sacked per pass attempt—is 4.4. If that sounds like a good number, it’s because it is.
That figure is considerably better than the league average of 6.1 percent, and is tied for ninth-best in the NFL. He’s in good company. Six of the league’s 10 least-sacked quarterbacks, including cagey veterans like Matt Hasselbeck and Tom Brady, are veterans of 29 or more years of age.
Newton and Colt McCoy of the Browns are the only quarterbacks with less than two years of experience among the league’s 10 best quarterbacks at avoiding sacks.
For most rookies, pass rushers are as hard to avoid as picks. Matt Ryan’s phenomenal 3.8 sack percentage in 2008 notwithstanding, Newton’s ability to evade pass rushers as a rookie has been absolutely unprecedented.
Excluding Ryan, the top nine rookie quarterbacks over the past five seasons to see extensive action—Vince Young and Jay Cutler (2006), JaMarcus Russell (2007), Joe Flacco (2008), Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford and Josh Freeman (2009), and Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy (2010) were sacked on an average of 7.2 percent of their pass attempts.
Granted, Newton’s current rate of 4.4 has been sustained over less than a third of a season. But one doesn’t exactly have to go out on a limb to assume that the rest of his year will be a lot more like games three through five, when he was sacked just once, than games one and two, when the pass rush reached him eight times.
While researching, I couldn’t help but ask myself, so what? The top 10 teams in sack percentage a year ago averaged 9.1 wins. This year’s top five teams in this statistic are a combined 17-7.
While I don’t want to imply for a second that winning does not require a whole lot more than good pass protection, the numbers show that keeping the quarterback upright certainly doesn’t hurt.
So don’t dismiss Newton’s ability to stay off his back on passing plays. Just add it to the ever-growing list of ways in which he already plays like a seasoned veteran.
Note: all statistics according to www.pro-football-reference.com