Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his weekly notebook. The topics of this edition include:
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ASK THE LEAGUE: Does Cam Newton have a point?
Cam Newton took matters into his own hands after last Sunday's game when he voiced his displeasure over the hits he's been taking -- hits he believes should be penalized. He said he "doesn't feel safe" in the pocket, with defenders taking shots at him from all angles. Newton suggested that he was going to reach out to Commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss the matter -- and he followed through on that promise, as the two chatted earlier this week. Given this story's prevalence throughout the week, I reached out to some knowledgeable folks to get their take on the situation. Here's what I asked:
NFC scout: "Yes. He's definitely getting 'extra' treatment from defenders. ... He kind of brought it on himself with the way he pranced around last season and stuff. The arrogance and dancing created a love/hate relationship and defenders are enjoying a little 'get back' right now. On the field, you can't really blame them for taking their shots at him because he puts you in such a bind when he's running the ball. If you play it soft, he will run you over -- so you have to take your shots when you get a chance."
NFC pro personnel director: "No! I think he's 6-foot-5, 248 pounds with 4.58 speed who is unbelievably difficult to tackle. Teams are simply swarming to the ball and making sure they gang tackle to get Newton on the ground."
AFC assistant pro director: "Cam gets hit a lot, but I don't think guys are targeting him, though. He simply doesn't get the calls that other quarterbacks get because he is so big. It's like 'the Shaq rules' in basketball. Big guys take a pounding from little guys because referees don't think the shots have a major impact. ... Remember, Cam has rare physical attributes for a quarterback. ... He will take two or three shots a year that are blatant because he stunts [showboats] on guys. He hot dogs a bit, so he puts his body at risk. Look at the Deion Jones hit."
Former NFL vice president of player personnel: "Absolutely. Defenders are smart. They are going to keep taking shots at him until the referees start calling it. ... I know he's a big man and 'running quarterback,' but he's getting pounded in the pocket and the refs aren't calling it. It's really embarrassing. ... I know they wouldn't be able to hit Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees like that without flags flying all over the place."
It's uncommon to see an MVP quarterback take the kind of hits that Newton's absorbing in the pocket. The rules are designed to protect the quarterback, but elite signal caller are essentially viewed as "fine china" by the NFL. Any defender who treats them roughly typically receives a 15-yard penalty (and a hefty fine). That's the way officials have treated quarterbacks since the NFL shifted to a pass-happy league, so I'm miffed that Newton has taken an unmerciful beating in the pocket over the past two seasons.
Before you tweet at me about Newton's prowess as a runner, the reigning MVP is taking the bulk of his shots inside of the pocket. He has been head-slapped and smacked in the face with flailing arms attempting to swipe at the ball. Newton also has taken crushing shots under his chin by defenders taking an extra step or two before delivering the blow. Now, I know NFL officials will cite a number of stats suggesting Newton has received fair treatment, but I've also watched other quarterbacks with lesser résumés draw flag after flag in the pocket.
Maybe Ron Rivera and the AFC assistant pro director above are right when they suggest Newton receives "Shaq" treatment due to his remarkable size and physical stature. For instance, Newton was nearly decapitated by Broncos LB Brandon Marshall in the season opener when he tossed a ball while on the move. The energetic linebacker appeared to launch into Newton with the crown of his helmet. Marshall's hit did not draw a penalty in the game, though he was fined the following week. Last week, Arizona Cardinals' DT Calais Campbellrolled into Newton's legs as he threw a pass. Again, the play was not flagged, but Campbell eventually was fined. Although the hit wasn't intentionally delivered below his knees, Campbell's reckless play is against the rules and officials need to make it a point of emphasis to protect Newton in the pocket.
I think it's important to put some of the blame on Newton for his role in his own battery. He is a flashy player who enjoys showboating and dancing when he makes big plays. While I love his exuberance, I know that his on-field behavior annoys defenders and they delight in punishing him at every turn, especially when the hits turn him into a guy prone to whining for calls. If Newton doesn't want to feel the wrath of defenders on the field, maybe he should tone down his antics when he makes a big play. Then opponents might take it a bit easier on the QB instead of drilling him at every opportunity.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.