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Carolina Panthers News and Coverage for the Digital Age

Before Cam Newton Wasn’t Getting Calls, He Was

During his first two seasons, no quarterback in the NFL was the beneficiary of more roughing the passer calls than Carolina's Cam Newton.

According to, from 2011-2012, 14 defenders were penalized for roughing the Panthers' star. Admittedly, this is a rough exercise — one that doesn’t include pressure, quarterback hits or scrambles — but divide Newton's attempts (1,002) with roughing the passer calls and you get a penalty every 71.6 attempts.

Something’s happened since then, though.

Whether it’s because of differences in a Rob Chudzinkski vs. a Mike Shula offense or refs swallowing their whistles, Newton’s fallen back to the mean since the start of 2013.


From 9/8/13 through 9/11/16


Player Attempts Roughing the Passer Calls Attempts Per Call
Aaron Rodgers 1,591 11 144.6
Matt Ryan 1,932 11 175.6
Russell Wilson 1,599 9 177.7
Cam Newton 1,633 9 181.4
Drew Brees 2,051 11 186.5
Andrew Luck 1,732 8 216.5
Ben Roethlisberger 1,774 8 221.8
Tom Brady 2,130 9 236.7


26 Games and 649 Attempts


When Broncos safety Darian Stewart was flagged for roughing the passer in Thursday’s season opener at Denver, it ended a stunningly long drought between such calls in Newton’s career. The last guy penalized for roughing him was current Panther and former Falcon defensive tackle Paul Soliai during a game in Atlanta on Nov. 16, 2014. Newton then played 26 games and threw 649 passes before officials deemed Stewart’s hit illegal.

So why the long pause? How does a quarterback that takes as many hits as Newton play more than a season and a half worth of games without drawing a single roughing the passer call?

It’s probably not because of any of the conspiracy theories floating around, but it’s fair to wonder why Newton hasn’t been getting the calls he used to.



‘He's a Quarterback, Who Happens to Be Big and Fast and Strong’


There’s nothing the Panthers can do about their loss to the Broncos now. Well, as one team currently sits in the crosshairs of an NFL investigation, they can at least hope the league deals with their opponent fairly.

As you’ve likely been well aware of since Thursday night, the Broncos were flagged just once despite hitting Newton in the head at least four times. That shot from Stewart will likely equal a fine, as will the one from linebacker Brandon Marshall, which should have been flagged.

“If it's determined that what they did is illegal, then they should be treated accordingly,” said coach Ron Rivera, who added the Panthers “sent a number” of hits to the league. “If they're not treated accordingly, then I'll be disappointed.”

Photo: Margaret Bowles
Photo: Margaret Bowles

Because of the number of helmet-to-helmet hits, some have accused the Broncos of headhunting. But Rivera, offensive coordinator Mike Shula and Carolina's Pro Bowl tight end all declined to go that far.

“I don't think they're intentionally trying to hurt anybody,” Greg Olsen said. “I think they're aggressive, they're playing hard and they're to hit the hell out of Cam. That doesn't mean there still can't be penalties.

“I'm not saying those guys should be, like, banned from the league. I don't think what they did was egregious; I just think they're penalties. No different than holding a guy's face mask.”

For their part, the Broncos explained themselves like many do when facing the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Newton.

“The guy is a big defensive end playing quarterback. What are we supposed to do? We can hit him in the legs sometimes, but his legs are strong,” Marshall told reporters. “We’re going to treat him like a running back.”

Which actually feeds right into the Panthers’ counterargument.

“The hard part is the hits that have people concerned were when he was a passer,” Rivera said.

“It didn't come about because he was running, it came about because he was a passer. As long as he's behind the line of scrimmage, he's afforded quarterback protection.”

Added Olsen:

“That is what drives me nuts. They say, 'Oh, but he runs the ball so much.' Well, every single one of those times he was hit he was playing quarterback,” Olsen said. “If he ran the ball 10 plays in a row as a running back, when he is a passer, he is a passer. Period. We're not saying Cam should get different rules than anybody else. Call the rules the same for every single person who is the quarterback.

“[He’s] treated like a running back. And he's not. He's a quarterback, who happens to be big and fast and strong.”


Thursday a Turning Point?


While it wasn’t enough to make an independent spotter call for a concussion test, the sight of Newton slowly peeling himself off the turf late in Thursday’s loss had to worry the Panthers. But while Rivera admitted “there’s some things that we’ve got to look at” as far as limiting the hits Newton takes, it’s unlikely you’ll see something like a sudden decrease in carries.

“It’s a fine line," Shula said. “You sit on the edge of your seat at times. It’s our job to make sure it’s twofold, to help him maximize his ability and to help us win football games. But it’s our job to make sure we put him in position where he’s not in harm’s way.”

Photo: Margaret Bowles

There’s also the matter of having a quarterback that not only shies away from contact but who often invites it.

“You're not going to convince Cam to change the way he plays. That's just who he is.” Rivera said. “It's in his nature to play hard and put it all out there. You've got to love who he is as a football player in terms of wanting to win and trying to do everything he can to win a football game.”

With so much attention following the Panthers home from Denver, there is the possibility Carolina could now indirectly benefit from the loss. The Panthers know how long Newton went without getting a roughing the passer call, and Thursday’s hit-to-the-head fest showed a nationally televised audience that bigger quarterbacks sometimes aren’t treated like their smaller, less mobile peers.

The Panthers didn’t get the calls in Denver, but after all this, officials may go back to protecting Newton like they did early in his career.

“No one's trying to take away the physicality of this game. No one's saying that Cam's not a big boy and can't protect himself,” Olsen said. “All we're saying is what’s a foul is a foul.

“If guys want to hit guys on the side of the head, they can. You're going to fine them, and if they don't care about the fine, there's nothing that's going to stop them. What stops them is they gave up 15 yards.”

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  • Chris Roche

    Bill, thanks for analyzing and presenting this data. What you have presented is interesting but the data isn’t sufficient to make any conclusions as it doesn’t adequately describe how often each QB was hit (since obviously each QB was hit different amounts given the various release times and offensive line quality) relative to how often they got the call. What we need to see is the ratio of QB hits vs the roughing the passer calls to determine if different QBs get preferential treatment. Also, looking at it per year is better than grouping it over a series of years but I know that would be a problem for Cam in 2015 since he had 0 roughing the passer calls.

  • The Panthers Superfan

    If I’m not mistaken, around Cam’s second year there was a NFL Officials Lockout where a certain Carolina NFL franchise’s owner took one of the harshest stances against the refs that may have something to do with it too…

    • sewells

      In my opinion, one factor is because Newton is black and perceived to be insufficiently meek. But, then again, I was reared in the rural south a long time ago and have a clear memory of how often my fellow whites used the word “uppity”. They don’t SAY it so much now but I have no doubt that it’s still THOUGHT a lot and I think those old attitudes color a lot of people’s opinions about Newton whether they want to admit it to themselves or not. I think a lot of people would just like to see him get what they think is his due comeuppance. It colors the decisions made about him in ways that might not even be conscious.

      Course, I could be wrong about that. But, when people start rationalizing the decisions they make it becomes less likely that I am wrong about that; i.e., they think “he’s big and strong and can take it”, “you have to hit him really hard every time if you want to win”, etc. etc. Nobody’s complaining about hard hits that are legitimate. Newton signed up for that. The problem is people thinking that the ends justify the means and intentionally delivering hits they know to be breaking the rules. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard analysts on TV say that as long as it doesn’t get called that people will just keep doing it more and more as if that is somehow a legitimate practice. If you know something is clearly against the rules, do you really NEED someone to call you on it to know you shouldn’t do it? Those rules are there to protect the defenders too.

      But hey, I was brought up old school and taught that how you win is just as important as winning itself.

      I’m just glad that the Panthers haven’t to date set out to retaliate against the other team’s quarterback with intentional helmet to helmet hits.

      • churl

        Lived almost 70 years in the rural south; white, I was raised around black families. Knew some of them pretty well and while things have improved immensely in race relations in the South, I wonder if the rest of the nation hasn’t regressed. A good bit of the almost racist crap coming from people are fans who are not from the South. I watched Joe Namath play in college and before Bear Bryant wrecked his knees, Namath could run as well as Newton. Joe was not a meek nor humble QB and a lot of people hated him. But he still got the roughing calls— such as they were back in those days. There is obviously something going on with the refs— not sure that’s racism but something is going on. The data proves it. I have said this numerous times and I mean it— if the NFL does not address the officiating issues, especially as it pertains to the Panthers in general and Newton in particular, I’m done with the NFL and I will take two families of fans with for sure.

  • Ben M

    As Yoda says “Size matters not”.

    When Newton is acting as a quarterback, ball in both hands, scrambling, running to the side, a helmet spearing is a helmet spearing whether Newton is 4’10” or 7’0″. When he tucks, the ball under his are and runs, he becomes a runner. Spearing his head as a passer falls in the same category as the “defenseless receiver” penalty group, That is, he is doing something other than pure running, preventing himself from properly absorbing the hit. Even running backs are afforded the protection of a penalty on blatant head-targeted hits.

    One deeper level to Bill Voth’s excellent analysis, would be of these “roughing the passer” penalties, how many were direct head-shots, glancing head-blows, late-hits/body-blows, or bad penalties (should not have been called – seen this with Brady, particularly that “brush-by”‘s are called).

    Because of the NFL’s super-visible and loudly-marketed emphasis on head-trauma, this officiating crew should be taken out of the rotation – suspended – for several games. Their incompetence was grossly negligent as clearly four clearly visible head-shots were taken and another borderline head-shot. In at least two of the impacts it is super clear that 1) Newton was performing as a passer, and 2) the defender leaped from his feet, targeting with his head to hit Newton’s head. Why would not instead, the defender target the ball to cause a fumble? Intent.

    The officiating crew should be suspended, including if not especially the booth reviewers who had the benefit of multiple tape reviews.