Carolina is a team built around a quietly excellent defense, featuring one of the best tight ends of the last two decades, and boast an offense sprinkled with players with legitimate talent. I remind you of that because you could be forgiven for thinking that this team was essentially just Cam Newton.
Newton dominates headlines and the spotlight in part because he’s a damn snappy dresser, but he’s also one of the NFL’s only great quarterbacks at the moment who can kill you through the air and on the ground. The other is Matt Ryan, of course, but Newton is so incredibly strong and large that bringing him down is a chore. He’s not the greatest passer in the NFL and he’s got a weaker supporting cast, but Newton possesses all the talent in the world. If you force him to sit in the pocket, he can still carve you up.
Knowing that, and knowing how vital he is to this offense, will the Falcons be able to stop or at least slow him?
Newton’s overall numbers as a passer are pretty pedestrian against the Falcons. He has completed 57.7% of his passes since 2011 for 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, absorbing 20 sacks (at least one in each of 13 matchups). He holds just a 6-7 record all-time against Atlanta, meaning he hasn’t exactly destroyed them.
While that last sentence may be true, though, his passing numbers fail to tell the whole story here. Because Newton has also run the ball 92 times over those 13 games for 662 yards and seven touchdowns, with an average of 7.2 yards per carry. He is solid through the air and lethal on the ground against the Falcons, and there are times he is a one man show.
Take last game. Atlanta’s stingy secondary clamped down, holding Newton to a 13 of 24 day for an anemic 137 passing yards and no touchdowns. The run defense failed utterly, though, as Newton rumbled nine times for 86 yards and a touchdown. That tied for the second-highest rushing total of his career against Atlanta, and it played a major role in Carolina’s ultimate victory.
The Key To Stopping Him
Stopping him this time will be harder through the air, because Carolina’s passing attack is gelling just a bit, and easier on the ground, where the Falcons run defense has started to figure things out. It will still be imperative to have someone ready and willing to spy on Newton and prevent him from running on a regular basis, with Vic Beasley, Deion Jones, and De’Vondre Campbell all candidates for that not-so-fun gig.
If you can keep him in the pocket, you just have to keep his receiving options under control. As usual, the receivers are less of a concern than Christian McCaffrey, who is capable of turning quick passes into significant gains, and Greg Olsen, who is just kind of a beast. I’d still much rather take my chances with him throwing all day against a very good secondary than running the Falcons over, however.
The bottom line is this: If you can’t harry Newton and stop him from taking off for 10 yard gains, though, you’re well on your way to losing this football game. If you can stop that, or at least limit it, your offense just needs to be up to the task of scoring more than 20 points to have a solid chance in this game.