Dealing Cards: Arizona expects to see Cam Newton run on Sunday
TEMPE, Ariz. — There is no secret about what Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is capable of.
The reigning NFL MVP, this season Newton has completed 57.8 percent of his passes for 1,296 yards with eight touchdowns and six interceptions, while also adding 148 yards and three scores on the ground. He missed the Panthers’ Week 5 against Tampa Bay due to a concussion, and overall has not been close to the same player he was last year.
But while Newton is not putting up the kind of numbers that led to him being the MVP, the unique combination of size, speed, strength and passing ability that allowed him to reach that level before are still present.
And that, according to the Cardinals, is worth worrying about.
“Cam, obviously, had the concussion, but we expect him to be back and be back to his self where he’s running the ball between the tackles and scrambling with the ball and trying to create,” Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher said Thursday.
In the NFC Championship Game last season, which was the last time the Cardinals saw Newton, he threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns with one interception while running 10 times for 47 yards and two scores. The Cardinals had no answer for him then, and they see the same kind of player in the 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback now.
“You realize that Cam Newton’s a monster when he runs the ball,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “He’s a guy you have to account for on all downs because he can take off and run and hurt you. He’s an unbelievable talent and physical specimen, so this will be everybody has to have the mentality that we’re going to keep him in the pocket, keep him from running.”
Of course that is easier said than done, and no matter how much the Cardinals aim to limit Newton’s running, most teams have found that very difficult to do. Because he’s taken such a pounding this season, there has been some talk about him perhaps trying to run a little less than he has in the past, if only to help keep him healthy and on the field.
Newton had a season-low two rushing attempts against the Saints a couple weeks ago, in his first game following the concussion. Was that a sign of things to come? Maybe, though the Cardinals don’t expect to see a change.
“As a running quarterback — like Cam Newton — he’s not the average running quarterback,” linebacker Chandler Jones said. “He’s strong, he’s big, he’s fast — you see him run guys over.”
Jones added he’s seen Newton get banged up at times, but that it would be unwise to just assume he is not going to run the ball much.
“You’ve got to account for his running ability, so you have to be ready for him,” he said.
The official injury report can be found here, and of note for the Cardinals is that Michael Floyd (hamstring) did not practice for a second straight day, while both Patrick Peterson (ribs) and Jared Veldheer (finger) were upgraded to “limited.” Mike Iupati was upgraded from “limited” to “full.”
As for John Brown (hamstring), the receiver was limited for a second straight day as the team still figures out how to deal with his sickle cell trait, though offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said he looked fine.
“It was just good to finally find out what’s wrong with him,” he said. “Obviously between him and the docs and Tom (Reed), they’ll get it figured out how he needs to practice every week. But I expect him to be out there.”
As noted above, Jared Veldheer practiced Thursday, albeit with a cast on his right hand due to a fractured finger. It’s not an ideal situation, but Goodwin is confident the left tackle will be able to go.
“He’s done some things with it so far to get used to it, but he should be fine,” Goodwin said. “It’s going to be a little bit of a limitation, but most of our protections we’ve got guys sliding one way or another, so he should get a little bit of help that way. But other than that, he’s going to be on his own — he’s got to hold up.”
Goodwin noted that where Veldheer is most likely to be affected by the injury is in pass protection, and it will important for the player to be disciplined in how he sets up and where he puts his hands. But in terms of being able to punch, the cast should not be an issue.
“I think Tom’s going to modify the cast a little bit so he can basically get his palm open and things of that nature to get a better feel as he’s punching, but he should be OK,” he said. “Guys have played with casts before on the offensive line, so it’s nothing new.”
Patience is a virtue
The Cardinals’ struggles in the deep passing game have been pretty well documented, though their offense seems to be finding its way now that it has morphed into one that is based around running back David Johnson and the intermediate passing game.
Goodwin said the deep shots are not there in large part because teams are not giving them opportunities, thereby forcing the Cardinals to take what’s underneath.
“That’s where I think, one reason the running game’s been a little bit better, because we’ve been patient, David’s a good runner,” he said. “People are just not going to give us that — they know we live for the shot, and people are not giving it up anymore.
“So, we respect that. Just got to beat them in other areas.”
It’s been a process, but the Cardinals appear to have settled into their new style as an offense that pounds the ball via the run and methodically works its way down the field.
“This year, you look in years past, I think the pass kind of set up the run,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “Now, we’re a team that is going to try to bully you off the line of scrimmage. We’ve got a back that’s a premier back in the business and we’re going to get him the football and let him do what he does.
“We’re going to feed off of that, and when we get our opportunities down the field, we’re going to take them. But I think the dynamic of kind of how we are is changing, but it’s based on the personnel.”
The new style requires a level of patience that may not have been there in the past, and Fitzgerald noted how QB Carson Palmer has done a great job not trying to force the ball into tight coverage down the field. Goodwin, however, pointed out how it’s not like the team doesn’t look for deep shots, as there are routes for them on pretty much every pass play.
“It’s just what does the coverage dictate, and I just think we’re being disciplined, and as a coach, especially me, when I talk in front of the offense, just saying, ‘hey, take what’s there and live another day if it’s not there,’ because we’ve got a lot of playmakers and just get somebody the ball, they’ll make something happen.”
The Cardinals used to be a team known for their passing game, and there may be some games where Palmer and the receivers lead the way. But for now, they are a team that wants to get the ball to Johnson, and when asked what led that to be the case, Fitzgerald laughed.
“I think when your back gets 100 yards in total yardage every single week, I think it’s pretty obvious you’ve got to get the ball in the big dog’s hand,” he said. “Let him eat.”