As Charlotte Observer staff writer Joseph Person reminded readers on Wednesday, during Cam Newton’s rookie season, there was occasional talk about the Panthers limiting how often they allowed their franchise quarterback to run.
It didn’t come from the team’s offensive linemen.
“We’re not saying that,” left tackle Jordan Gross said.
After running just five times during a Week 1 loss at Tampa Bay, Newton rushed for a career-high 71 yards on 13 carries last weekend in a 35-27 win against New Orleans. Newton also posted his second-highest passer rating (129.2) against the Saints by completing 14 of 20 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown.
Gross does not believe that’s a coincidence.
“When he runs, it causes problems for defenses. That 40-yard run he had shows you it’s not like he’s just a slow quarterback running,” Gross said. “He’s a threat on the ground. He threw the ball well, too. I think he plays better when he’s doing all that stuff. He kind of gets more in the groove of things and he throws the ball better and just has a better day usually.”
The Panthers are 6-3 when Newton rushes for at least 50 yards but 1-4 when he is their leading rusher.
Person went on to note that Rob Chudzinski’s offense seems to be at its best when the zone read package is clicking, as it was Sunday when Newton read his keys and either handed the ball to a running back or kept it. The Panthers rushed for 219 yards a week after tying a franchise low with 10 rushing yards against Tampa Bay.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose team will visit Charlotte tonight, said running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart make the zone read even more dangerous.
“You’ve got concerns because not only are they looking to read certain individuals in your defensive front, they’re also setting up other things by his reaction,” Coughlin said. “Not simply if you keep, pull or pitch, all that comes to prevail. When you have a couple of obvious runners the ability of Williams and Stewart, it puts more pressure on you because you can’t arm tackle those guys.”
The same goes for a 6-5, 245-pound Newton, whose 14 rushing touchdowns last season were the most by a quarterback in league history. According to Person, the Panthers believe Newton’s size and strength -- combined with his knack for avoiding the big hit -- make him less susceptible to injury than other mobile quarterbacks such as Michael Vick.
“If he wants to do it, then let him run the ball,” Gross said. “Because he’s a big, strong guy and he’s one of the best goal-line backs in the league, too.”
Head coach Ron Rivera said Newton knows when to make another move, and when to slide.
“He gets hit, but not big. And I think there’s a difference in that, as well,” Rivera said. “And a lot of the runs that we have are calculated. He’s reading for the most part as to whether or not it’s a good idea to hand it off or keep it.
“But it doesn’t hurt my feelings when he hands it off, though. I’m going to be honest. I do worry about him when he’s out there.”
Still, Newton has yet to miss a play to injury as a pro.
“It’s Cam Newton. He’s built like a horse,” fullback Mike Tolbert told Person. “So he’s ready to roll all the time. I’m not worried about him taking a hit.”
Newton said he is up for whatever the coaches want him to do.
“I’m a football player at the end of the day,” he said. “If they want me to run, I’ll run. If they want me to throw, I’ll throw. If they want me to block, I’ll block. If they want me to go get some water to better the team, I’m going to do it. ...”
With Stewart's status in question, it certainly doesn't have another quality ball carrier capable of getting the job done. And Newton qualifies.
Oh. ... And he can throw it, too.
Through two games, Newton has completed 37 of 53 passes for 556 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Giants' pass defense, meanwhile, has struggled. As the Sports Xchange notes, its renowned pass rush has limped out of the starting gate, as defensive ends Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Jason Pierre-Paul have combined for just one sack and one quarterback hit, stats that are likely a result of the extra chipping opponents have thrown at them to slow down their charge.
Meanwhile on the back end, the Giants defensive backs continue to give up the big plays, a combination of the safeties playing much too deep to provide help to the corners, and the corners not being physical enough with the receivers at the line of scrimmage.
If the Giants are to limit the damage Newton does to them, it starts up front with them trying to beat the chipping while still maintaining contain should Newton decide to take off with the ball. On the back end, the safeties probably don't need to be as deep as they've been playing, which would help projected starting corners Corey Webster and rookie Jayron Hosley tremendously.
And if they slow the pass?
Well. ... Have you heard Newton can run?