I think the game might be changing before our eyes. Spread fields, explosive offenses, record number of pass attempts. Through the first two weeks of the season, teams are calling more pass plays than ever; the pass-run ratio this year is 58.8-41.2 (counting sacks as pass plays), which is two percentage points higher than a year ago. Feels like more than that, doesn't it?
And consider this. In Week 1, when the Patriots spread the field from their own half-yard line and Tom Brady threw a 99-yard touchdown pass, that was a sign of something you wouldn't have seen a few years ago. (And not by many teams today, either.) Here's another wrinkle. Through last season, Brady had started since 2001 and had one 400-yard passing game. And in his first two games in the National Football League, Cam Newton has two.
The Newton phenomenon is interesting because we've never seen a rookie quarterback being as good as Newton is as soon as this. Through two games, he's completed 62.7 percent of his throws for the other-worldly sum of 854 yards -- and a similarly other-worldly 10.3 yards per attempt. Some other great quarterbacks' career YPAs: Dan Fouts 7.7, Peyton Manning 7.6, Brady 7.3.
We'll see if it continues with the Jags coming to Charlotte Sunday. Jacksonville's a good run defense team, so look for Newton to fill the air with footballs again.
Five reasons I think Newton's off to such a good start:
But as much as that, Newton hasn't been overwhelmed by the learning process because the Panthers didn't teach him everything in the playbook. That will likely come next offseason. Rivera told me what they did was teach him a base number of plays and formations that will be the bedrock of what the Panthers do every week. And then they will teach and install another handful of plays each week that will be opponent-specific. Last week against Green Bay, Rivera said it was about 75 percent from the base package and 25 percent installed for the Packers. That's a smart way to do it, I think.
"[Quarterback coach] Mike Shula has worked very hard with him on his pass drop, because obviously he was a shotgun quarterback most of the time in college,'' Pennington said. "He's very conscious of his footwork in the five- and seven-step drops. You can see how he wants to get it just right. And you could tell when we talked to him the day before the game how much it irks him to be thought of as a running quarterback. I could see it in his facial expression -- it bugs him that people would think he's not up to par on the mental side of the game, or will just start running as soon as anything goes wrong.''
Newton will learn when not to challenge a baiting corner; I'm sure Monday and today he's run the two Charles Woodson interceptions from Sunday over and over in his head -- and on digital video in the Panthers' quarterback room. It's a learning process. The one thing we've seen so far is that Newton's a very quick study, which should take him a long way in the NFL.
Now onto your email:
EITHER BECAUSE IT'S JUST WEEK TWO, OR I'M WRONG, OR BOTH.
Good question. I'm sure the Chargers will be in the Fine Fifteen soon, and for much of the year. But they struggled to beat Minnesota, gave up another return touchdown, then had the turnover problems again in New England at key moments. Haven't been very impressed with the Chargers so far. I picked them to win the AFC, and I haven't given up on them, and I love Rivers, but I want to see them play well.
YOU'RE RIGHT: I SHOULD HAVE CREDITED HANSON.
MIKE DOESN'T THINK TEAMS SHOULD PAY RUNNING BACKS.
I didn't suggest paying a running back like a top quarterback. I suggested paying him, period. Forte is one of the Bears' five most valuable players, and he's making $555,000 this year, the last year of his contract. The Bears should do the right thing and pay him commensurate with the top five to 10 backs in football.
Thanks for writing in and mentioning it. Bledsoe is a good man.
SOMETHING NICE ABOUT ANDY DALTON.
There are a lot of worthy events and people I do not mention in Monday Morning Quarterback each week. Look at the letter above yours about Jason Hanson. Should I have mentioned what he did? Of course. If I had the time and the vision to see all aspects of all games, the column would be significantly more thorough, and probably longer.
Here's my situation, Chris: I am on NBC on Sundays during the season. I watch quite a bit of the early games and makes notes on them for my column and for phone calls I want to make after the games, preparing for the
BELICHICK AND THE HALL OF FAME.
Aaron, it will be a factor in the deliberations over Belichick, I'm sure. It should be. As I often say about the Hall and its voting process, I'm one of 44 voters, and I cannot look into the hearts of the other 43 and pretend to know how any of them feel about this. I know how I feel, and I feel it was a breach of the rules and is significant. But would it prevent me from voting for Belichick if he continues on this path of greatness, being a trendsetter in so many ways in the modern game, with three Super Bowl titles as head coach and two others as a defensive coordinator? No.
TWITTER CHANGING THE LEAGUE.
Absolutely. I'm a big Twitter fan for those reasons too. My problem was ESPN's overly dramatic tease, not the fact that Twitter has changed the landscape of how some fans enjoy the game, and how some media people keep current with things around the league. When you say something has "changed the league,'' I don't consider how fans interact with the media and maybe very occasionally with a player to be "changing the league'' in any way, shape or form.