Panthers, Browns exemplify importance of quarterback stability

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Norv Turner has been fortunate to have a stable quarterback situation at most of his stops as a head coach or offensive coordinator, from his current job at Carolina with Cam Newton to his first in Dallas with Troy Aikman in 1991.

Then there was that 2013 stop in Cleveland.

Turner had three quarterbacks -- Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer -- during his one year as the Browns' coordinator. Each completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes in a scheme based on high-percentage throws. They combined for almost as many interceptions (20) as they did touchdown passes (26).

The Browns went 4-12.

"It's hard to get in a rhythm for your guy," Turner said as the Panthers prepare for Sunday's game in Cleveland (1 p.m. ET, Fox). "Obviously, when you have one guy playing you keep building on the things he's doing good. You keep growing with the players around him.

"Sometimes, you feel like you're always starting over [when you have an unstable situation]. When you ... have a guy that's played a lot, then it's easier to do."

So yes, Turner was thankful when he joined the Panthers this year to have a franchise quarterback like Newton. Even though Carolina has lost four straight games, falling to 6-6, Turner knows the situation would be much worse if he didn't have the 2015 NFL MVP heading into Sunday's game in Cleveland.

For perspective, the Browns have had a league-high 16 starting quarterbacks since Newton entered the NFL in 2011 as the first pick of the draft.

The Panthers have had -- not counting the three games Newton missed because of injury -- one since 2011.

"There aren't a lot of teams that go have great success that don't have an established, high-level quarterback," Turner said.

It goes much deeper than performance. The Browns have used five draft picks on quarterbacks since 2011, including three in the first round. They believe they've found the answer in Baker Mayfield, the top pick in this year's draft, but they've thought that before with Johnny Manziel and Weeden.

The Panthers have used no draft picks on quarterbacks since selecting Newton. That has afforded them the opportunity to strengthen the rest of their roster.

"You can be a really good team in this league, but if you're going to have a chance to compete, be in the playoffs, to win championships, it's only going to happen when you have that kind of a quarterback," Browns coach Gregg Williams said.

Continuity is key

As badly as Newton played in Sunday's 24-17 loss at Tampa Bay, throwing four interceptions for the first time since his rookie season, his presence gives the Panthers a chance to make the playoffs with four games remaining.

"If you have your franchise quarterback it takes a lot of pressure off everybody," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "You can tell how important it is to the league, period, by the way the rules are changing in terms of trying to protect the quarterbacks. That's about as important as it gets."

The NFL playoff picture speaks volumes to the importance of the quarterback.

Of the 12 teams currently in, eight have quarterbacks ranked among the top 11 in ESPN's Total QBR, topped by Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes with a rating of 84.3.

The top five -- Mahomes, Drew Brees (Saints), Philip Rivers (Chargers), Mitchell Trubisky (Bears) and Jared Goff (Rams) -- are on teams that have won eight or more games.

Four in the top 11 -- Brees, Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers), Tom Brady (Patriots) and Russell Wilson (Seattle) -- have won Super Bowls.

That Trubisky could miss his third straight game this week with a shoulder injury is concerning because he, along with a strong defense, has been key for the Bears, who had not made the playoffs since 2010 or had a winning record since 2012.

And it took the Bears nine other quarterbacks since Newton came into the league to settle on Trubisky.

That Washington (6-6) is down to its third quarterback this season because of injuries puts the team in danger of missing the playoffs after a solid start.

"Continuity is about as big as it gets. We're seeing a little bit of it right now on the coaching staff. We've had a huge transition," said Rivera, reminding he is on his third defensive coordinator in three years, which on Sunday led him to take over the playcalling from Eric Washington. "If you can stay where you don't always have to look for a certain position, it's [easier]."

Getting it right

Stabilizing the quarterback spot goes beyond what happens on the field. Having the right person in place filters into the meeting rooms and locker room.

"There's no question," Turner said. "Getting everyone on the same page, it changes [everything]."

Statistics bear that out. The Panthers have won 56.4 percent of their games and made the playoffs in four of seven seasons since drafting Newton. They reached Super Bowl 50 after the 2015 season. They have a chance to make the playoffs again this season.

The Browns, 4-7-1 this season, have won 22.5 percent of their games since 2011 and haven't made the playoffs.

The eight teams that have used one quarterback since 2011 -- again, with the exception of the starter periodically missing a start or two because of injury -- have won 58 percent of their games.

The 14 teams that have used five or more starting quarterbacks during this span have won 47.2 percent of the time. That drops to 41.8 percent for the six teams that have had eight or more starters.

Need more on the impact of the quarterback since Newton was drafted?

  • Five of the seven Super Bowls have been won by teams with one or two quarterbacks since Newton was drafted. The other two were won by Denver (7 QBs) with future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, and the Eagles with Nick Foles, who won the Super Bowl MVP after replacing injured Carson Wentz.

  • Only three of 32 teams that have had more than two starting quarterbacks reached the Super Bowl, and again those teams had a stable quarterback at the time. Denver beat Carolina with Manning, San Francisco made it when Colin Kaepernick was playing at a high level, and the Eagles won it last year.

  • No team with eight or more quarterbacks during that span has reached the Super Bowl, and the combined playoff record of those six teams is 1-6.

  • The 12 teams that used one or two quarterbacks have 45 playoff wins. The 20 teams with three or more quarterbacks have combined for 28 playoff wins.

  • The eight teams that have used only one quarterback during that span have 26 playoff wins and two Super Bowl titles, both won by the Patriots. That's an average of 3.25 playoff wins; The other 24 teams have 47 playoff wins, an average of 1.9.

Williams believes the Browns finally got it right with Mayfield. He sees many of the characteristics in the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma University that he sees in Newton, the 2010 Heisman winner at Auburn.

"When that guy gets to your organization you're able to build and build and build," Williams said. "But you have to have that type [of player]. You see the success Carolina has had once they got Cam in there."