Thursday, October 25, 2012

My suggestion for Cam Newton

Just when you thought I had fallen off the face of the Earth, I'm back. And I have a few suggestions for Cam Newton and the Panthers, seen as how they're asking. I sincerely hope someone shows this to Cam or someone at the Panthers because they quite literally look bad enough right now to need help from the blogosphere, or whatever the hell the Internet blogging community is referred to as these days. 

And because I hate the Panthers (or was it just John Fox? I can't remember).

Kicking off (no Cam, that's not a suggestion) with footwork. Or in other words, stop just standing around in the pocket with dead feet waiting for someone to come open.

Just go and sit and watch an hours worth of Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Do nothing for an hour but watch their feet. How many times do you see them just stop dead in the pocket, feet not moving? Answer; almost never. They keep their feet moving, "jumping on hot coals" or whatever slightly redundant coaching analogy you wish to use.


Because while you're scanning the field and looking for an open receiver you need to be ready to do two things. One is to slide in the pocket to avoid pressure. The other is to be ready to throw at any moment, as soon as you see someone come uncovered.

Dead feet does not do that. You need to be up on your toes, bouncing, ready. This is analogous to why boxers like to keep their torso, feet and hands moving when they close with an opponent, because it's quicker to redirect a part of the body that is already in motion than it is to get one accelerating from a dead stop.

Now I know your offensive line isn't great and that doesn't help. But you are one of the most ridiculously athletic individuals to ever play the quarterback position. Given that, you should have few problems sliding around in the pocket to avoid pressure and buy yourself a bit of extra time to throw.

Which leads me to my next issue. Go back and watch all that film again that I suggested. This time I want you to pick out the plays where a gap in the pass rush opens up in front of them. Watch what Brady, Manning and Brees do in that situation, then run some film of yourself in the same situation and watch what you do.

See those three guys are quarterbacks, so when they see a gap open in front of them, they slide up into it, keeping their eyes down field and looking to make a throw still. Only when they reach the line of scrimmage and nothing else is on do they even consider pulling the ball down and running with it.

By comparison you tuck and run every time you see a big gap. You see a wide hole and your brain seems to process that as "running lane". Those other quarterbacks, their brains processes that space as "room in the pocket to step up and buy time".

Which is one of your major problems. Cam - my friend - you need to understand that you are not a running back. You are paid to throw the football, not run with it.

Just turn around and take a look at your backfield for a moment. You got Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and big Mike Tolbert, one of my favourite fullbacks in the NFL right now. You have a backfield that is the envy of the NFL. You have three runners each of whom could easily carry the load as the primary rusher on your team.

And those three men, they're running backs. And guess what? They get paid to run the football. You don't. You get paid to throw it. See the difference? If you run the ball for 80 yards but only throw for 150 and no touchdowns then you're not doing your job properly. You're doing their job and impacting on your own.

So next time you get a big open space in front of you, don't run it. Keep the ball up, slide into the space, keep your eyes down field and find your open guy. 

And if that means checking down to a running back or a tight end underneath then so be it. You don't have to sling the ball for 40 yards on every play. Football is a long game and you need to understand that sometimes you just have to dump the ball off on a check down and get what you can out of a play. Not every throw you make has to be a highlight reel shot.

Now Carolina coaches, it's time to take you aside for one moment here. Because the fact that you're letting Cam Newton stand in front of the press and take all the blame is absolutely ridiculous. You need to man the f**k up and accept that some of the problems belong to you.

I want you take a look at that backfield, the same way I asked Cam to do. You got Jonathan Stewart. You got DeAngelo Williams. And you got Mike Tolbert. Yet you only call 15 running plays in a game? Are you out of your minds?

You have a superb backfield. Williams is a great veteran, Stewart is an incredibly under rated athlete for his size, and Tolbert is a powerful, rugged, reliable runner and blocker. There are some teams in the NFL that would chuck out their own running back corps entirely to have your three guys.

You cannot expect Cam Newton to carry your offense. It's stupid and it's clearly not working. To let him take all the blame for it is also stupid. You have to wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe if you got your running backs into the game a bit more, teams wouldn't be so eager to pounce all over your passing game. And god knows, you might even accidentally develop a decent play-action game.

And while we're talking about running games, please quit it with the trick runs and all that option stuff. How in the hell do you expect Cam to learn all that option stuff, worry about getting all that right, and on top of that learn a complete passing offense?

Get a grip. And prioritise. Your normal passing game is more important than some stupid zone reads and option gimmicks. If you want to run that kind of stuff so bad then you really need to commit to it full time. Otherwise cut that crap out and let Cam get comfortable in your dropback/play-action passing game first before you throw in a few extra twists.

Now Cam, back to you buddy. 

Look, the final thing that needs fixing is your attitude. That whole Superman gig you've got going on. If I was your coach I'd be tempted to punch you in the face as you came back to the sideline after doing that.

Touchdown celebrations are the sort of mindless crap that the guys on the NFL Network get all excited in their pants about, but nobody else really cares for. It is nothing but a selfish, self serving gesture. Rich Eisen and Deion Sanders might love it, but you're not playing for their approval. 

You're playing for your team mates, your coaches and your fans. 

By comparison you look at someone like Larry Fitzgerald. When he makes a touchdown catch do you see him dancing around in the end zone like an idiot? No, you don't. He gets up, flips the ball to the ref and then goes and celebrates with his team mates.


Because he's a professional and a team player, and everything he does on the field just oozes of that attitude. The way he carries himself, the way he treats others around him, the way he treats his opponents. Larry Fitzgerald is a class act and he demonstrates it from the second he walks out onto that field to the second he leaves the stadium.

Sitting on the bench with a towel over your head, sulking and hiding from your team mates is not the act of a leader. When you see a top draw quarterback come off the field after a bad play or series, the first thing they do is normally one of two things; they either get on the phone to the press box or they get the Polaroids from the last play and they start figuring out what went wrong.

They don't waste valuable time on the bench sitting there with their head in their hands. They study, learn, analyse, figure out what went wrong. They use the mistake to improve themselves, ceaselessly, in an effort to be the very best that they can be.

And when they get into press conferences after a game they tell the media that they'd liked to congratulate the other team on their success, answer a few stupid questions from reporters, and then they talk about how the team needs to work hard to rebound from the mistake and, critically, they accept their ownership in the loss.

They acknowledge that they didn't play their best and they accept some of the blame for the loss. And when it's all done, they go home and watch the game tape with a beer, make notes, and figure out what mistakes they made.

And every day between then and the next game they go about being a quarterback. That means sitting down with your QB coach and breaking down the last game in detail, comparing notes and coaching points. Getting a better understanding (and getting coached, right Coach Shula?).

It means taking the last four or five games of the next opponent and starting to breakdown their coverage, front and blitz tendencies etc. What is their base set up? What do they like to do on third and short? Third and medium? Third and long? Red zone? What personnel do they use and how do they move those guys around?

Who are the pass rushers and what do you have to look out for? Who are the corners? What routes do they struggle with? What technique do they use? Do they tip off their coverages? Same thing for the safeties and linebackers.

There is an old book written by a Chinese general and strategist called Sun Tzu. The book is called "The Art Of War". Even today it guides many generals, admirals, strategists, businessmen and women, and yes, even football coaches.

The reason it has survived for such a long time and continues to be popular is because the book contains a number of short phrases and sentences that can apply as much to a corporate boardroom strategy as they did to warfare in ancient China.

One of those phrases is "first win the war; then fight the war".

Every coach has their phrase of choice that they make into the team motto for the year. If I were a head coach, that would be mine. It simply means that you should seek to create the conditions such that victory over your enemy is inevitable. You stack the deck against your enemy in such a way as to practically guarantee victory. 

Then you go out and fight the battle.

That is the essence of what film study and mid-week practice is all about. You win the game throughout the week by thoroughly studying every aspect of your opponent, till you know the fifth string corners just by their jersey number and whether they like to look at the receiver while running or turn back and look at you.  

You understand how each blitz package is tied into the coverage, knowing that if there is an overload blitz on one side then naturally the position of the other defenders dictates to some degree the coverage that can be played behind it.

You look at the safeties and where they stand in relation to the hash marks on each play, looking for the tip offs that show you which coverage they're dropping back into. You look at the linebackers and you understand that when that guy turns his hips to the sidelines he's not agile enough to flip back the other way in time when your guy cuts in behind him.

Then on Sunday you go out and execute. You take all the knowledge you've acquired about yourself and your opponent (Sun Tzu; "Then when you know both yourself and your enemy, you shall not fear defeat even in a hundred battles") and you apply it on the field. 

What at first looks like a hurricane of unrelated, impenetrable activity to a novice eye, all of a sudden starts to slow down and look more and more like a coherent, understandable system. And once you understand the system, that's when you start seeing the rules and principles that form its foundation. 

And you start seeing the weaknesses...

So Cam, do me a favour. Stop being Superman. Just be Cam Newton for a change. Stop trying to run the ball at every opportunity and start learning how to work the pocket, keeping your eyes down field, and work through your progressions.

Be a leader. Don't sit down on that bench unless you have a binder full of Polaroids in your hand. Talk to your team mates. Help them. Communicate with them. Don't blame them when they mess things up. Instead, help them to not make the same mistake twice.

Be the first guy into that building and treat film study as an essential activity to becoming a better quarterback. Stay behind at the end of the day if you have to and make sure that you and Coach Shula or Coach Chudzinski are on the exact same page.

When practice comes around, be the first guy in that locker room. While everyone else is getting dressed you should already be jogging out onto to practice field. While everyone else is jogging out onto the field you should already been warming up your arm.

And when practice is over, ask one of your receivers to stay behind for five minutes so you can get some extra work in on that go route. Or ask a running back to stay behind for five minutes so you can work on perfecting your play fakes. Or ask the other quarterbacks to stay behind for five minutes and act as pass rushers, coming inside and out, so you can brush up on your pocket movement with your eyes locked downfield.

Be courteous to the media. Give them cookie cutter answers and don't bite on their attempts to bait you. Don't give them anything they can turn into a sound bite. Acknowledge your mistakes, but be positive. Always talk about how you're working to improve. And then back that talk up with action away from the cameras.

Seek advice from ex-pros. They've been where you are now. They've seen it and done it all. They know what you're going through and they may have tips and advice for you. Listen to them. 

Just.... be a quarterback. Not a running back. Not an idol. Be the man that your team needs you to be; Cam Newton. Quarterback of the Carolina Panthers.

..... and then share this on facebook, twitter etc. ;)

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