NFL: Panthers’ Newton going home
CHARLOTTE ó The Carolina Panthers have embraced all of what Cam Newton can do.
The rookie quarterback has not only put up record numbers passing, but also has been the Panthersí primary weapon in the red zone. He has rushed for five of the teamís six touchdowns leaving him one shy of Chris Weinkeís single-season franchise record.
Newton will get to showcase his NFL versatility in front of family and friends when he returns home to face the Atlanta Falcons Sunday at the Georgia Dome ó not far from where he grew up in College Park, Ga., and later arrived on the national stage at Auburn.
When asked if heís been bombarded with ticket requests for his return home, Newton simply smiled and said, ěStubHub.î
He downplayed the homecoming, saying he has more important things on his mind ó like winning.
ěWeíre real close, but close doesnít get you nowhere,î Newton said, referring to the Panthersí 1-4 start despite being in each game until the end. ěAnd thatís probably the most disheartening thing, knowing how close we are to getting that win and putting us back on the map. Emotionally, I think we just need a win to hang our hat on, to say we beat this team.î
Still, Newtonís popularity has skyrocketed after an incredible first month of the season in which he was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for September.
In five games heís had a hand in 12 of the teamís 13 touchdowns ó seven passing and five rushing ó and ignited an offense that only found the end zone 16 times all of 2010.
The Panthers have gone out their way to use Newtonís athleticism, making him the primary goal-line weapon,
Of the 27 plays the Panthers have had inside their opponentís 10-yard line, Newton has carried the ball 15 times, all of those coming on designed running plays. By comparison, the ědouble troubleî duo of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have combined for three carries. Newton has thrown nine times inside the 10, completing three for touchdowns.
ěThatís one place where the field is so compact itís hard to get good numbers,î Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. ěSo with a quarterback as a runner the numbers even out.î
Itís simple math.
When a quarterback hands off to a running back in that situation it becomes nine blockers against 11 defenders. But when you have a quarterback like Newton it becomes 10 against 11.
ěIt creates a lot of issues because in your preparation for most teams, more often than not, you donít have to account for the quarterback so you can have an extra guy,î Smith said. ěWhen you have an extra runner with the quarterback you have an extra blocker. Normally you donít discount it 100 percent, but the majority of the time the quarterback doesnít carry the ball and that really is the issue it creates for coordinators.î
ěIf theyíre in the red zone, theyíre creating plays where they can have a hat on a hat and not have an unblocked defender.î
The Panthers also have used Newton in other ways.
Two weeks ago, they split him out as a wide receiver with Williams in the Wildcat. Last week they introduced the option and it worked extremely well. His first pitchout went to Williams, who raced 69 yards for a touchdown. They ran the same play later and Newton kept the ball, running for 13 yards.
ěIn that set obviously heís a threat as a runner and when a defense has to account for a quarterback as a runner it makes it more difficult for them,î Chudzinski said. ěThe 69-yard touchdown run was a part of that. I think running Cam is improving our running game with the other guys as well.î
Over the past two weeks, the Panthers have averaged 165.5 yards per game on the ground, up from 84 per game in the first three weeks.
Thatís due in part to opponents beginning to respect Newtonís arm, forcing defenses to drop safeties into coverage rather than cheat to play the run. Newton has thrown for 1,610 yards in five games, which is more than backup Jimmy Clausen threw for in 11 starts last year.
ěItís shifted how people defend us,î Chudzinski said. ěI think it will continue to go back and forth. And thatís one of the reasons weíre striving to be balanced in our attack. The first couple of games (defenses) were heavy on loading up on the box and the last next two we had more opportunities to run the ball and get some better looks.î
Now the Panthers just have to find a way to win games.
The Associated Press