Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Newton's Legs as Vital as his Arm to Carolina Panthers Offense

Like many Carolina Panthers fans, I’ve watched every down of every game he’s played in – not to even mention the years that preceded his arrival in Charlotte and Jimmy Clausen’s futile attempt at running the offense.

I’ve arrived at a conclusion that seemingly becomes more and more obvious as the games are played: that Cam Newton’s legs are every bit as vital to the success of the Panthers on the field as is his throwing ability.

Week twelve’s win at Miami provided a microcosm of the bigger picture. In that game, Cam ran once in the first half and the offense struggled mightily. He ran six times in the second half en route to leading the team to a 20-16 come from behind victory.

I understand what’s going on here. Ron Rivera, Mike Shula, and the overall organization doesn’t want to put their rising star at undue risk by exposing him to hits from linebackers or even smaller defensive backs.

Nearly every “running quarterback” that has been in the league for long at all has seen his share of injuries.

Look at Mike Vick, for instance. I can’t even think of the last time he played in all 16 games, if ever, after his first season or two.

Robert Griffin, III? Blown ACL last season.

Aaron Rodgers spent some time on the sidelines with injuries his first couple of years starting and he’s injured right now.

Even Ben Roethisberger, who is more of a big, strong scrambler who looks to throw downfield in lieu or running per se has had more than his share of injuries. With his team’s offensive line woes seemingly ongoing, he stays beaten up.

Cam, thus far at least, hasn’t been injured so badly that he has missed snaps….but take a look at the very first play Carolina ran on offense against Miami last week.

Cam got hit by another “Cam” who is every bit as big, strong, and fast as he is in the form of Miami DE Cameron Wake.

Newton had to call a timeout because of it, went to the sideline, and promptly spit out a wad of blood onto the field turf.

So, I understand the risks and so do the Panthers coaches. It’s plain as day if you just look at examples all across the league.

It’s also why, after running well past the first down marker against Miami on a 4th-and-one in traffic, Newton simply fell to the ground. He was avoiding getting hit.

Newton’s unique blend of Big Ben’s size and strength, Colin Kaepernick’s speed, and experience (even since college at Auburn) in running the zone/read or read-option game presents quite a dilemma for Rivera & Co.

Keep him safe, don’t call any designed QB runs, and watch the offense struggle…or let him loose and risk destroying any chance of a special season altogether.

Nov 24, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan (95) reacts after sacking Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) during the second quarter at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It’s an interesting problem, and one that NO other team has to deal with in quite the same fashion. Since Cam IS a larger man than, say, RGIII, he can dish out punishment and absorb hits that would sideline smaller QBs like a Mike Vick or a Russell Wilson.

The other part to this equation that I touched on briefly is that the offense isn’t the same without Cam’s sprints.

The offensive line is average, to be kind. Part of the reason is injuries at the guard position and partly lack of elite talent at tackle.

The receiving corps lacks an elite “number one” threat. While Steve Smith is still an effective receiver at age 34, he’s lost his ability to threaten the field vertically. Veteran WR Ted Ginn, jr. was brought in to help with that but, as that same Miami game demonstrated, he has questionable hands – which is why he was even “affordable” to Panthers’ General Manager David Gettleman in the first place. The rest of he receiving corps has a bunch of journeymen players as well, and while TE Greg Olson is one of the better receiving tight ends in the game, he’s not a great blocker.

The running backs are where the offensive talent lies and they are being compensated quite accordingly.

What it adds up to is that Cam’s legs make a huge difference in the success or failure of the offense and the team. When Cam is held back, so goes the offense. When he’s let loose, he adds a dynamic element that no other team can quite replicate.

Cam’s as difficult to sack as Big Ben due to his strength but he has the speed to do something about it – whether it’s extending a play while looking to throw or tucking the ball and gliding down the field himself.

He ran a LOT more his rookie season than he has since, and his rookie numbers show it. He set not only “rookie QB” rushing records, but ALL-TIME single-season QB rushing records and the offense was top-ten.

There seems to be a clear-cut correlation between Cam’s running and the offense’s success. Simply put, when Cam doesn’t run, neither does the offense. As Cam’s legs go, so goes the offense. Whatever platitude you want – it applies here.

Perhaps I’ve beaten the point up a bit too much already, but the more games he puts under his belt, the more obvious it becomes. But what’s the longer-term answer?

Nov 18, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) runs through a hole during the third quarter against the New England Patriots at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers defeated the Patriots 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Clearly, if he starts running a lot and often, he’s probably going to get injured at some point and the entire team will suffer. If he doesn’t – well, we’ve been around that subject several times now.

I think for this season at least, the coaching staff has to unleash him on the ground for the Panthers to have any chance of making a playoff run, let alone winning much. The Panthers have a championship-level defense in place. It’s the offense that is holding them back.

Not taking advantage of Cam’s abilities to the fullest keeps one metaphorical hand tied behind their backs.

Over the longer term, starting in April 2014, the Panthers need to draft heavily on the offensive side of the ball to take the pressure off of Cam to have to run. As Carolina gets younger and more talented on the outside and upgrades over Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn, and Domenic Hixon, Cam should find more opportunities in the air…so long as the team obtains linemen to keep the heat off of him.

I think with Cam’s size, he could hold up to a year or two of running the ball with a purpose so long as there is some endgame in play that David Gettleman and Rivera can contemplate…get Cam some toys and some protection, and the offense will get more explosive on Cam’s arm.

At that point, coaches can give Cam’s legs – along with his ribs, knees, and everything else – more of a rest. Let him run freely while he’s still young, but get more of an influx of talent on the offensive side that can be developed and take pressure off the team’s coaches to put Newton in harm’s way to begin with.

Until the offense becomes more talented and mature, Cam’s full talents need to be deployed. If that happens, the team could really be a force…..this year.

Cam is the true X-factor on this offense and it will be interesting to see if Carolina’s coaches are coming to the same conclusion I am, and if so, do they have the gumption to expose Cam through limited but impactful running plays?

I guess we’ll have to keep watching to find out!

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Tags: Cam Newton Cam Newton Running Carolina Panthers

  • Cam.45 (Smith&Olsen)

    “Like many Carolina Panthers fans, I’ve watched every down of every game he’s payed in – ”

    I don’t think he’d be our QB is he wasn’t paid… Oh “Played in”… SPELL CHECK! Hahah!

    Good article regardless… Thanks eh?

    • Catman

      Spell check is worthless. “payed” and “played” are both words and pass muster.

      My favorite example of the failures of spell check is from “does not” and “doe snot.”

      It goes “doe” – that’s a word; that’ll work….”snot” – that’s a word; that’ll work.

      Thanks for nuttin’ spell check!!!

      Fixed it btw. :) Thanks

  • ahrcshaw

    Sounds good, but the Panthers have strayed away from their original plan and need to readjust. Shula does not quite have the right game calling formula, not that he is wrong, but because he is loosing Cam’s accuracy in passing. First let’s qualify a running game, Cam running out of the pocket is being an escape artist, sure he is running but that is not a planned call for him to run. Cam needs to run out of the pocket when he has to, he should not be told to run out of it if he does not have to. Cam should be called on to run using the run option read, once in a while.

    If you look at what the defenses are doing you will see that they are still in the box 8 and blitzing someone most of the time from the outside. For some reason Shula and Rivera have changed their passing approach as Cam has been throwing almost as many 15 yds or more passes then short ones. First of all the box 8 disrupts the normal power run game, second it allows the rush to get to Cam and there in lies the problem.

    Rivera and Shula do not have the right formula right now with Cam. It is still a work in process. Ever since the Seahawk game they have been having Cam throw longer and longer, in the last three games he has dropped as much as 20% in his passing accuracy rate, when Cam drops back 3 steps and throws or throw in 3 to 5 seconds from the shot gun he is at his best, he gains confidence, it opens the true running game and the team moves the ball. Cams major problem in passing is and has been his decisions making, when he is forced or what ever they are doing check down, pass underneath or out in the flanks or screens or what ever he is as good as Brady. If you look at the Seahawks game, had Olsen not dropped three (2) wide open and (1) in slight traffic (let alone the drops by Smitty and Lafell), the Panthers would have blown them off the field. For some reason this Panther team plays a lot better when they get an early start and the way they will do that is when Cam throw short quick drop offs, screens or sideline passes and gets the running game going.

    Having Cam run is good, needing Cam to run is not good, letting Cam chose to run is good, turning him loose may not be good, but all that aside if they get his short passing game going they don’t need Cam to run. And all is well in Panther fan land. Go Panthers.

    • Catman

      That’s just it – with the offense as it sits now, he NEEDS to run. I’m referring to _designed_ runs for Cam, and he doesn’t have to be the team’s top rusher like he often is to pull it off. I agree with you in that the offense needs to find its “personality” and I’ve simply noticed that when they call designed runs for Cam, it really makes the defense back off and run more “spy” plays – where he can’t BE blitzed. That’s the thing about 8 in the box or blitzing…the have their weaknesses and with an under-performing offense with vanilla play calling, there needs another element to it for the Panthers to make much of a playoff run, in my opinion. We might get there without it but we won’t get far.

      As I wrote, Cam can be that “x-factor” or whatever you want to call it with his legs until Gettleman has another draft or two under his belt and can improve the explosiveness of the offense. Right now, we have NO credible deep-threat (as I said, and Ginn demonstrated last week); Ginn helps in fits and starts but other than Smitty we don’t really have any receivers to rely on game in and game out with, as you mentioned, the dropped passes for instance.

      I still think Cam’s “money” throws are the deep comeback and the deep/intermediate out-patterns. He has gotten comfortable with those particular throws and seems to make some key completions on them on third downs every game, and often multiple times.

      One or two designed QB runs per quarter should be enough to change the way defenses play us, and that in turn should help to open up the running game a bit more. As for the short passes and screens, again, they aren’t reliable as I’ve seen dropped passes and high throws on THOSE waaaay too much this season. When they hit, they often hit well, but I for one am NOT a fan of the read-option, zone/read or whatever….and stay tuned for an article on this as to why!

      Keep pounding and go Panthers!

      • ahrcshaw

        I can agree with what you say about Cam’s running a called run play one or two times a qtr, but he also needs that short play option pass back. A shot down field in each qtr maybe, but not 7 or 8 as he did in the Miami game.

        Not being on the field I can not get the feeling of what players are doing. When you see the frustration or dejection as they slowly meander into the huddle like we saw in the first two possessions in the Miami game you know their in a funk. For some unknown reason this team needs to be successful in the first or no later then the 2nd possession to really look like they want to set the tone on offense. Maybe running Cam early would help as well, but for sure any success he has with the short passing game helps immensely. Go Panthers and pound those Bucks.