Coaching matters. Just ask Cam Newton, who received arguably the biggest coaching upgrade of any quarterback in the NFL when the Panthers replaced Mike Shula with Norv Turner. The hire of Turner, who had been coaching in the NFL for four years before Newton was even born, raised plenty of skeptical eyebrows given his history with deep drops and a vertical passing attack.
But Turner has taken the Panthers skill players and deployed them in an entirely different way and the trickle-down effect on Newton and the Panthers offense has been stunning.
For starters, let's simply look at Newton's statistics. Turner was roundly mocked for claiming Newton could complete in the high 60 percent of his passes -- understandably, given Newton's career completion percentage was below 60 percent coming into this year. But Norv wasn't wrong; Cam is now completing 66.4 percent of his passes after hitting on almost three fourths of his throws against the Ravens in Carolina's surprising 36-21 win over the NFL's best defense.
Newton's interception rate is also the lowest its been in his career and, without really drawing any attention, he is having a better year through seven games than he did in 2015 when he led the Panthers to a 15-1 record and won MVP.
2015 (through seven games)
That year Newton became the only quarterback to ever throw for 3,500 yards, throw for 30+ touchdowns and rush for 600 yards in a single season. He's on pace to become the second quarterback ever to do it.
But Panthers fans should be even more enthused about this year's rendition, because Newton is being hit far less often. He has been sacked just 10 times so far this season, registering by far the lowest sack percentage (4.0 percent) of his career.
Carolina's offensive line is playing at a surprisingly high level as well, managing to protect Newton when he does have to throw deep from a precarious position.
All of this is a culmination of a shift in personnel coupled with Turner's ability to adjust his offensive philosophy to fit Newton's and the talent around his unique quarterback. Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore are chess pieces, players who can seamlessly move around different formations and make an impact rushing or receiving. It's no surprise Moore leads the NFL with 12.1 rushing yards per game by a wide receiver, or that the Panthers are first in rushing touchdowns by quarterbacks and wide receivers or that they're sixth in the NFL in receiving touchdowns by running backs.
Look at this play from Sunday's win over Baltimore for a perfect example of how Turner can take his speedy weapons and leverage a defense in multiple ways. The motion by Samuel is just another thing a defense has to deal with and even a slight play action fake to McCaffrey has to be accounted for. Newton rushing in one direction is always going to get defenders flowing that way and then, bang, Moore comes flying around for the backside, end-around pitch.
Good luck stopping that when the offensive line is making its blocks. Here's another example of how motion and play action both leverage the defense and let Newton read what kind of look the defense is giving him. Turner is getting his playmakers into space and giving Newton easy throws that allow said playmakers to pick up tons of yards after the catch.
Norv Turner's offense is using all kinds of stuff - motion, misdirection, play action, threat of QB running - to give Cam easier throws than he's ever had with the bonus of getting the ball in space to playmakers hands for YAC. pic.twitter.com/vtY7x1hse8— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) October 30, 2018
Turner hasn't messed around with trying to reduce Newton's running. There's no need to do that -- the Panthers idea of running Newton less before the 2017 season was asinine. Cam gets hurt when he spends too long in the pocket, holding the ball, waiting for plays to develop and then taking huge shots from defenders at full speed.
By putting an emphasis on quick throws and accuracy to playmakers, Turner has increased Cam's efficiency, improved the play of the offensive line, maximized his playmakers' skillsets and managed to create an offense that should keep Newton healthier over the course of the season.
The result has been an MVP-caliber start to the season for Newton and a Panthers offense that is beginning to really find its groove. If everything clicks for Carolina on that side of the ball in a 2015-type fashion, watch out.
To the weekly quarterback rankings.
Yell at me on Twitter @WillBrinson with your complaints, questions and (unlikely) compliments and make sure to check out my daily NFL podcast, the Pick Six Podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes here.
To the rankings:
Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs QB
|What am I supposed to do? Move him out of here. Mahomes already tied Alex Smith's career high in passing touchdowns for the Chiefs and it's only Week 8. He's the clear-cut MVP at whatever arbitrary midpoint you prefer.|
Drew Brees New Orleans Saints QB
|Just produced the lowest passing yards total in a Saints win in his career against the Vikings thanks to the defense coming on strong. But the Saints just beat Baltimore and Minnesota on the road in back-to-back weeks. Take down the Rams at home this week and the Saints might be the new NFC favorite.|
Philip Rivers Los Angeles Chargers QB
|Bye week but Rivers needed the rest before going head to head with fellow NC State alum Russell Wilson. Sneaky great game there.|
Cam Newton Carolina Panthers QB
|Not joking about what I wrote above. We're seeing Newton's skillset come to life with a competent coordinator.|
Tom Brady New England Patriots QB
|Another less than amazing game from Brady, but the circumstances were a little weird in Buffalo and he slung some ropes when he needed to.|
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers QB
|We were ROBBED by Ty Montgomery of seeing Aaron Rodgers going toe-to-toe with Wade Phillips to try and beat the Rams.|
Carson Wentz Philadelphia Eagles QB
|The Eagles have no running game, Wentz isn't that far removed from his ACL tear (less than 12 months) and he is playing GREAT football lately. 75 percent completions, 291 yards per game, eight touchdowns and one pick over the last three weeks.|
Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons QB
|Big bye week follow up for Ryan here -- Atlanta faces a tough defense in the Redskins on the road where the Falcons offense hasn't performed at the same level.|
Russell Wilson Seattle Seahawks QB
|Wilson is starting to find a groove behind a good offensive line: in his last three games he has 17 incompletions and nine touchdowns. If the Seahawks beat the Chargers he's going to get some well-deserved MVP attention.|
Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh Steelers QB
|Who knows if Le'Veon Bell will actually be back any time this year, but the Steelers definitely have something cooking on offense right now.|
Deshaun Watson Houston Texans QB
|Watson is starting to find his groove as well, and man there are just a lot of good quarterbacks in the NFL right now.|
Jared Goff Los Angeles Rams QB
|Goff is playing really well and not getting enough MVP love because Todd Gurley and Sean McVay exist.|
Andrew Luck Indianapolis Colts QB
|Interesting to note that with Marlon Mack healthy and running the ball over the last two weeks the Colts have seriously reduced Luck's attempts each week. The Colts are in the AFC South race. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.|
Kirk Cousins Minnesota Vikings QB
|Tough breaks for Cousins and the Vikings against the Saints -- can't really blame Cousins for the pick six and Adam Thielen had a brutal fumble.|
Matthew Stafford Detroit Lions QB
|Not the world's best outing for Stafford, who just lost Golden Tate to a surprising trade deadline move. Not a bad outing either -- there's just a lot of stiff competition in the top range of these quarterbacks.|
Andy Dalton Cincinnati Bengals QB
|The Bengals are a bit of an enigma, but Dalton played well enough to blow out Tampa Bay, were it not for a late comeback by Fitzmagic.|
Mitchell Trubisky Chicago Bears QB
|Gonna get burnt by putting him this high and probably gonna get burnt when he goes and plays a sneaky tough Bills defense in some nasty weather.|
Joe Flacco Baltimore Ravens QB
|Is the Ravens offense starting to sputter? Or is the defense a problem? Flacco and Co. looked great in the first drive against Carolina and then kind of fell apart.|
Ryan Fitzpatrick Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB
|It's really hard to rank Fitz, knowing that he could be replaced at any moment by Jameis Winston. This whole situation is very bizarre.|
Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys QB
|Cowboys bye week gives way to a BRUTAL schedule, with Monday night's game against the Titans almost serving as an important springboard for their playoff hopes.|
Alex Smith Washington Redskins QB
|Didn't have to do much against the Giants. Just let spry old Adrian Peterson run wild and make a couple of throws.|
Derek Carr Oakland Raiders QB
|Rousing performance against the Colts when everyone had counted the Raiders out, and it still wasn't enough. Says a lot about this team this year.|
Case Keenum Denver Broncos QB
|Doing enough to let the Broncos cover against Kansas City but they never really came close to winning.|
Marcus Mariota Tennessee Titans QB
|The Titans just refuse to unleash any sort of passing game. Where was that second half we saw against the Eagles?|
Josh Rosen Arizona Cardinals QB
|Three quarters of meh gave way to an incredible final drive -- could that be what Rosen needed to kickstart some success with Arizona? Big bye week to get healthy and on the same page as Byron Leftwich.|
Sam Darnold New York Jets QB
|He's been overwhelmed by some tough defenses and bad weather in the last few weeks.|
Baker Mayfield Cleveland Browns QB
|Mayfield still passes the eye test, but I don't think the Browns are ready to make him good yet. Curious to see what happens after they fire everyone.|
C.J. Beathard San Francisco 49ers QB
|Is he going to play against the Raiders on Thursday? He's very much up in the air.|
Brock Osweiler Miami Dolphins QB
|Nothing lasts forever, even the cold Brockvember rain.|
Blake Bortles Jacksonville Jaguars QB
|Bortles is hurt and the Jaguars looked around for QB options at the trade deadline and they can't protect or run the ball. This is a problem.|
Eli Manning New York Giants QB
|The end is coming and it's coming quickly.|
Nathan Peterman Buffalo Bills QB
|He gets to start against the Bears defense. This guy cannot catch a break. Brutal matchup.|