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Kyle Allen isn’t better than Cam Newton when healthy. Stop it

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This entire discussion has jumped the shark.

Miami Dolphins v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

A four-game win streak has given way to one of the stupidest NFL stories of the year: The Panthers’ “looming QB controversy” when Cam Newton eventually returns from injury.

Carolina improved to 4-2 with a 37-26 win over the Buccaneers in London, thanks to seven Tampa Bay turnovers. Before the game, quarterback Kyle Allen was touted as the Panthers’ heir apparent, and it’s only gotten worse from there.

It all started in Charlotte following Allen’s Week 3 win. Some fans had been clamoring for a Newton replacement since he was drafted, and Allen proved the perfect foil. He was the subject of almost every sports talk radio show, and as Allen kept winning it bled into the mainstream.

Let’s be 100 percent clear on something: Assuming Newton is healthy — really healthy, not the Ron Rivera “he can go”-type healthy that’s been used when he’s obviously hurt — then there should be no deliberation. If the Panthers really have a “tough decision” deciding if Newton is better than Allen, the entire front office should lose their jobs for gross incompetence alone.

Allen, to his credit, is now 5-0 as a starter — but the myth being perpetuated positions Allen as the hero, as if he’s the one actually winning games for the Panthers. It plays into the cult of quarterback, which distills football into being a battle of quarterbacking and nothing else.

Never mind the fact that Christian McCaffrey is leading the league in rushing, or that the defense has recorded eight interceptions and five fumbles. None of that matters when everything turns into a referendum on the quarterback — because it’s 2019 and we still haven’t unlocked out how football works, apparently.

The missing stat here is that Allen has been one of the most fumble-prone players in the NFL, putting the ball on the ground six times so far this season, losing four of them. A QB stat line doesn’t looks so great when it lists seven touchdowns and four turnovers. It doesn’t fit with the ever-reliable stalwart narrative that’s been built around Allen — so it tends to be conveniently ignored.

Of course, it doesn’t help when Michael Irvin says things like, “Greg Olsen looks like he’s been revived in this offense since Kyle Allen took over.” (It should be noted that Olsen has seen his targets, receptions, and yards all plummet with Allen under center.)

There is absolutely no doubt that currently, with the information we have, Allen is the correct choice for the Panthers. A healthy Allen is far better than an injured Newton, that much is obvious from 2019 alone, where Newton hasn’t been healthy at all.

However, we’ve seen a bizarre rewriting of history denigrating Newton’s accomplishments for the Panthers to levels where there are some people who seriously believe Allen is a better quarterback than Newton — even if Newton were at 100 percent.

Don’t bother to ask them to show their work, because it’s nonexistent. They’ll point to Allen’s lack of interceptions and his completion percentage, the most basic of metrics any dope with a phone can look up. Dig deeper and we see that the Panthers offense is far from the rosy picture of a Tom Brady-esque Allen leading Carolina to a Super Bowl.

  • All four of Allen’s starts have come against average pass defenses of 26th in the NFL.
  • The best pass defense he’s seen was against Jacksonville (16th) where he managed to pass for just 181 yards and 1 touchdown, completing 56.7 percent of his passes. The Jaguars were without Jalen Ramsey.
  • Allen has completed just 10 passes for 20+ yards this season (122 attempts). This 8.2 percent deep pass rate is lower than Newton’s 2018 rate (10.2 percent) despite Newton needing shoulder surgery.

A common refrain is this notion that “Kyle Allen is so much more accurate than Cam Newton.” It’s preached by those who worship at the altar of Alex Smith, consistently content with mediocrity, or game managers. Never mind the fact that Allen is completing just six percent more of his passes than Newton has over his career, or 1.2 throws more a game — if you want to break it down like that.

Thus far, all the comparisons being made are based on Newton’s last four starts. Games where he was either suffering for a foot injury, or playing with an injured shoulder. Go back to his last truly healthy stretch (Oct. 14 - Nov. 4, 2018) and we get a more complete picture.

Kyle Allen vs. Cam Newton, 4 game “healthy” comparison

Kyle Allen 80 122 901 65.6 7.4 7 0 106.6 7 6 0 6 4
Cam Newton 92 133 1,010 69.2 7.6 8 1 111.2 37 177 1 2 0

After the game Ron Rivera refused to get involved in the discussion, saying that he wouldn’t speculate on who the Panthers quarterback would be until he needs to.

“As far as I’m concerned, we’re not going to deal with the question until it is time. And when the time comes, I will address it. As far as I’m concerned, [Cam’s] in the rehab program and he’s doing the program and our quarterback right now playing for us is Kyle. So we’re not going to address it.’’

The Panthers are winning by asking Allen to do less. Former Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams explained to ESPN that the expectations being asked of Allen pale in comparison to Newton.

“I say this: They’re not asking Allen [to do] what they ask Cam to do,” Williams said. “That’s why the team is different. This is a West Coast offense, so when [Turner] took this position, he knew he had to tweak his offense. With Allen, all they’re asking him to do is throw the football and hand off to Christian.

There’s an additional layer to this: Newton has never been a chain-moving, check-down quarterback. He’s always been pushing for big plays and trying to gain yards in chunks, rather than nibbles. It wasn’t so long ago that we used to eat up performances like this and come up with gutsy terms like “gunslinger,” which has somehow evolved into “mechanically flawed,” when applied to Newton.

“Gunslinger” QB Comparison

Name Completion Percentage Yards-Per-Attempt TD% INT% Yards-Per-Game
Name Completion Percentage Yards-Per-Attempt TD% INT% Yards-Per-Game
Brett Favre 62 7.1 5 3.3 237.9
John Elway 56.9 7.1 4.1 3.1 220
Cam Newton 59.6 7.3 4.6 2.7 232.3

The point here isn’t to say that Newton is the same quarterback as Brett Favre or John Elway (though hoo boy, those numbers and closer than I thought they’d be). It’s the double-standard that gets applied to Newton whenever there’s discussion of his ability as a passer.

Newton succeeded to varying degrees over the course of his career in spite of the Panthers, not because of them. 2019 was truly the first year he was going to be able to enjoy a competent offensive line, and the first time with two dynamic, legitimate wide receivers on the outside in D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, both of whom showed they’d finally made the leap into being successful NFL players. Of course, it helps too that the defense has been rock solid and is causing so much disruption that Allen often gets to work with a short field.

With a healthy, 100-percent Newton and these Panthers — the sky would have been the limit. I firmly believe this team would have pushed deep into the playoffs, potentially even to the Super Bowl. Now it’s unclear, even after four straight wins.

Nobody in New Orleans is suggesting that Teddy Bridgewater keep the job when Drew Brees is healthy. Bridgewater is also undefeated, and being helped by offensive playmakers and a solid defense. The assumption is that Brees will be the starter again, despite the fact that Brees is older and Bridgewater is playing better than Allen is. That means something.

This whole thing sucks, and it’s ludicrously unfair to Allen. There is no good way to explain how valuable Newton has been to the Panthers without pointing out all the ways Allen is not Newton. Instead we should value him for exactly what he is: An astoundingly good backup quarterback who was ready when he had to be and hasn’t lost the Panthers any games. That’s it, that’s all, and that’s OK.