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Cam Newton caused a stir on Sunday after the Carolina Panthers’ 30-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals when he railed against the NFL, saying he didn’t feel safe during games and that the unflagged hits were taking the fun out of the game for him.
Fans and commentators quickly broke into two different camps in response to his comments. One side argues that Newton has been among the most protected quarterbacks in the NFL. The other side says he is not protected at all.
It turns out both sides are right depending on which numbers you choose to use. The problem is that the numbers are changing, and it is unclear why.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk cited data since 2013 showing that officials had missed more roughing-the-passer calls against 11 other quarterbacks than they had missed against Newton. Similarly, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network pointed out that Newton had been the beneficiary of more roughing-the-passer calls since 2013 than some of the biggest names in the NFL, including Tom Brady:
Context to #Panthers QB Cam Newton’s comments about pocket protection: He’s gotten 9 roughing calls since ’13, more than Brady, Ben, Rodgers
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 31, 2016
Still others, including Newton, argue that he is not getting the same calls as other quarterbacks. Many point to the league-low zero roughing-the-passer calls he has received since the start of the 2015 season (Newton did receive one in Week 1 this season, but it was not enforced since there was an offsetting call).
How do we explain the discrepancy? Well, both sides are right. Newton used to get a lot of calls, more than the NFL average, and for some reason the flags stopped flying in the past two seasons.
Here are the numbers of roughing-the-passer calls against the Panthers’ opponents since Newton entered the league in 2011, compared with the NFL average. From 2011 through 2014, Newton averaged six roughing calls a season, twice as many as the league average (three) during the same period. But while the number of flags in the NFL has remained consistent over the past two seasons, the number of flags on hits against Newton is way down.
- Cork Gaines/Business Insider
So whether fans and commentators are defending the NFL or criticizing it, they have the choice of citing data “since the start of the 2015 season” or “since 2013” or “in his career.” They will all be right, but none will tell the entire story.
To put it simply, Newton used to get the calls, and now he doesn’t.
Now it is up to the NFL to determine whether this pattern is an aberration based on a small sample or a sign something changed that is causing officials to stop protecting Newton. Either way, thanks to the comments by Newton, everybody will be watching more closely.
If Newton is not protected moving forward, everybody will notice.