On Sunday, Cam Newton had the audacity to voice concerns over hits he was receiving that were not being called, sparked by a clear low hit into his legs by Calais Campbell near the goal line.
On Monday, the NFL, through a source speaking to Pro Football Talk, expressed the view that plenty of other quarterbacks had more missed roughing calls than Newton.
Per a source with knowledge of the league’s position on the matter, the NFL would contend (and likely will contend, if Newton follows through on his vow to speak to Commissioner Roger Goodell) that, as missed roughing calls go, he’s faring better than plenty of quarterbacks.
From the league’s perspective, the officials have missed three roughing calls on Cam since the start of the 2013 season. (Yes, that seems low.) Eleven other quarterbacks, by the league’s count, have had more missed roughing calls: Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Geno Smith, Josh McCown, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Case Keenum, and Ryan Tannehill.
A representative for the league’s PR wing also had this to say:
Those claims became the basis for much commentary about whiny Cam yesterday on the television circuit and airwaves. Many uncritically passed them along, or misapplied the numbers even more, messing up the time period.
Over the last two seasons, Newton has one called roughing the passer penalty (the one against Denver on the clear helmet hit personal foul) but that was offset by Newton being called for grounding before getting creamed. (He also got an unnecessary roughness penalty called on the play immediately before Campbell’s hit, on a rollout and a dive at his legs late).
There are two primary problems with accepting those NFL numbers at face value. First, it is in the eye of the beholder, and some of the same biases may be informing whether one views a play as “missed.” I went through just this season, since the reported NFL claim went back to 2013. I counted five missed calls, including the one on Sunday.
The NFL came out, reportedly, and acknowledged that the hit should have been flagged. Was this included in that leaked “11 other quarterbacks have had more missed calls” number? Well, it should have been, as it took me all of three seconds to determine that it was a low hit below the knees, and Campbell wasn’t pushed.
In addition to the Campbell play, I think the following were misses, based on the rules (Ed Werder said on NFL Live that in addition to the Calais Campbell play, there was only one other miss this year, you be the judge):
In the Saints game, a low hit below his knees by a blitzer who knocked the running back backward and dove into Newton after the pass;
In the Broncos game, the Brandon Marshall hit that clearly involved launching with the helmet;
In the Broncos game, a helmet-to-helmet hit on the sack, which wasn’t intentional, but most of the ones that have been flagged this year aren’t. I could provide numerous examples (see Fitzpatrick against the Ravens, for example).
In the Broncos game, a whack across the helmet after he released a pass from Shaquil Barrett was also uncalled.
The second problem goes beyond what is missed, and goes to that gray area of what is called. Helmet contact should be straightforward. Other quarterbacks have gotten the call on less contact (Bortles got one where it didn’t even affect him, he spun out of pocket, and made throw). Contact below the knee should be straightforward, other than determining whether the defender was forced into the QB.
What isn’t straightforward are those plays where the official is making a judgment call of whether the defender could pull up or was too physical after the pass was released. There are several other plays that I personally would not call roughing, because they are borderline, where a defender hits Newton right after the release of the pass.
However, in reviewing what has been called in favor of other quarterbacks–compared to what has been missed–Newton doesn’t seem to get the same benefit. I think this is largely because of size and mobility. When a defender takes one step and shoves Kirk Cousins or Drew Brees, it has a different set of optics than when a defender takes one step and shoves Cam Newton or Ben Roethlisberger.
Let’s go through some examples. Here’s Matt Ryan getting a call against the Packers. He doesn’t even go down.
Here’s Kirk Cousins turning away immediately as he throws in the face of a blitzer. There is a helmet to shoulder within a step.
Compare that to this by Newton against the Vikings.
I don’t think that’s roughing, but other than his size, that looks like the Kirk Cousins play in terms of timing, both quarterbacks turning away, and taking a hit after throwing it. But in real-time, you can see why the Cousins looks worse (he has a lower target, his head snaps back).
Newton almost certainly has a point. Let’s stop accepting NFL statements as fact at this point. If you use that to just go forth and embrace debate, you are just passing on what they want.