'Efficient' Newton will be tough test for Pats 'D'

'Efficient' Newton will be tough test for Pats 'D'
November 12, 2013, 9:00 am
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The Carolina Panthers’ five-game winning streak was jump-started by the elevated play of Cam Newton.

Over a three-game stretch in October, Newton went 58 for 75 with six touchdown passes, no picks and he was sacked just six times.

In the prior three games, Newton was 55 for 98 with five TD passes, five picks and he was sacked 13 times.

Not coincidentally, his passing yardage totals in each of those games when he was struggling was higher than in any of the games when he was playing well. When Newton is in a pass-first mode and the Panthers stray from their running game, it’s not nearly as good for them as when they have the whole complement of Newton abilities to draw upon.

“I think he’s playing very efficiently,” Bill Belichick said of Newton, who the Patriots will face next Monday night.

Belichick went on to praise the myriad physical abilities Newton has, but returned again to talk about the key to the Panthers’ successes. Smart play from Newton.

“They’ve been playing from ahead a lot this year and I think that, again, for a quarterback managing the game, getting the win for the team, doing the right thing in the right situation is a lot more important than individual stats. I think he’s done a good job of that for his team, making good decisions, doing things that help the team win. He’s avoided mistakes that put the team in difficult situations so I think he’s playing very well, as is the rest of his offensive team.”

Sunday against the 49ers, Newton faced a very good defense on the road and got out with a win. The stats weren’t pretty – 16 for 32 for 169 yards with a pick and four sacks taken and his lowest rushing YPA of the season (2.4, 17 yards on seven carries). But that is secondary.

The Patriots may not have the same level of defensive talent the Niners do at this point, but New England is a more intricate defense to go against because of its tendency to game-plan to stop specific strengths. With Newton and the Panthers, expect New England to work the same principles they have in other games against mobile quarterbacks like Geno Smith, EJ Manuel and Ben Roethlisberger.

Belichick said Monday that playing quarterbacks with similar styles does have some carryover effect.

“I think that a lot of the plays that Carolina runs we’ve seen from Buffalo and the Jets,” Belichick explained. “They run a lot of under-center plays too, they’re not in the gun nearly as much as teams like Philadelphia and Buffalo. So, they have a good mixture in the running game and their passing game. They’re balanced. They do both out of both. They run and throw under [center] and run and throw in the gun and they have a nice mixture and a group of complementary plays running strong side and running weak side with their counter plays and things like that.

“The fact that we have seen some of those plays, we’ve worked on the basic blocking schemes and how to fit on them, where everybody needs to be (helps some) but it’s always a little bit different from week to week, depending on the personnel,” Belichick added. “There will be some little differences, but there are definitely some similarities between the players that you mentioned and their overall scheme, probably less of Roethlisberger other than having a big arm and throwing the ball down the field, there are definitely some comparisons there.”

It will be a big week for the Patriots responsible for keeping Newton hemmed in and contained. It will also be imperative the Patriots stop the Panthers’ running game, although Carolina hasn’t been as run-oriented as in past seasons. The X-factor will likely be tight end Greg Olsen. The Patriots will be able to deal with the electric Steve Smith, especially if Aqib Talib returns. But New England’s had difficulty with tight ends and Olsen (35 catches, 440 yards) is one of the more talented ones.