Cam Newton used to be among the most-protected quarterbacks in the NFL and then something changed

Cam Newton caused a stir on Sunday following the Carolina Panthers’ win over the Arizona Cardinals when he railed against the NFL, saying he doesn’t feel safe during games and that the unflagged hits are taking the fun out of the game for him.

After the comments, fans and commentators quickly broke into two different camps and came out slinging. 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 showing that officials have missed more roughing-the-passer calls against 11 other quarterbacks than they have missed against Newton, since 2013. Similarly, Ian Rapport of the NFL Network pointed out that Newton has been the beneficiary of more roughing-the-passer calls since 2013 than some of the biggest names in the NFL, including Tom Brady:

Still others argue, including Newton himself, 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. The problem is, Newton used to get a lot of calls, more than the NFL average, and for some reason, the flags stopped flying the last two seasons.

Here are the number of roughing-the-passer calls against the Panthers’ opponents since Newton entered the league in 2011, compared to the NFL average. From 2011 through 2014, Newton averaged 6.0 roughing calls per season, twice as much as the league average (3.0) during the same period. But while the number of flags in the NFL has remained consistent the last two seasons, the number of flags on hits against Newton are way down.

So when fans or commentators are either defending the NFL or criticising them, 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 of them 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 if this pattern is an aberration based on a small sample or did something change that is causing officials to stop protecting Newton. Either way, thanks to the comments by Newton, everybody will be watching more closely and now there is pressure on the officials.

If Newton is not protected moving forward, everybody will notice.

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