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.
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?
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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