Eagles Wake-Up Call: Containing Cam Newton
Looking at last year’s game, it seems safe to say the Eagles figured out Cam Newton. The Panthers Pro Bowler registered a quarterback rating of just 15.3 against Philadelphia, in part because he was sacked nine times and ran the ball twice for six yards.
But as Newton has led the Panthers to a surprising 5-0 start this season, the Eagles have little reason to reflect on last year — largely because the quarterback had an ankle injury.
“We faced a different Cam,” Chip Kelly reportedly told Carolina media yesterday. “We haven’t spent a lot of time looking at last year just because I don’t think Cam was at 100 percent last year when we played them.”
Because he wasn’t fully healthy, the Eagles experienced a very limited version of Newton. If you look at Carolina’s first five games this season, however, it’s clear why he’s so much more dangerous when he can run unencumbered.
Newton leads the Panthers in rushing touchdowns (three), and all NFL quarterbacks in rushing attempts (50). His ten carries per game are about 40 percent higher than his career average.
“He’s such a playmaker,” Bill Davis said. “You have to plan on keeping him in there, but the athleticism kicks in and it’s about a bunch of effort trying to get him and taking good angles. He’s going to make his plays. Athletes like that make their plays, and we have to keep it to a minimum.”
In Carolina’s Week 2 win over the Texans, Newton’s abilities were on full display as he rushed 10 times for 76 yards and a touchdown. According to Davis, most of Newton’s carries on first and second down are designed runs. This includes the zone read, which the Panthers had great success with against the Texans.
As you can see above, one element that makes Newton so difficult to defend is his ability to either go through you, or around you. One advantage the Eagles have, however, is that their defense has previously prepared against these concepts.
“The bonus that we have is what we practiced against all offseason,” Davis said. “So the read option, the triple option, all the different variations of the run game that they have, we at least, as a defense, work on it and have the conversations in the offseason.”
Newton is also dangerous because he scrambles well, as he did against the Texans too. Although you want to generate pressure, you can’t lose containment and let him get to the outside. On the play above, J.J. Watt rushes inside, and no one fills the lane he left open.
“Usually when teams get a lot of sacks, it’s because guys are working really well together and flushing the quarterback to other people,” Beau Allen said. “You got to be smart. You have to be really aware of where he is in the pocket and know where the different lanes are that he can run through. You have to always have your eyes on him and know where he is.”
The Eagles did an excellent job of this last year against the Panthers, which was the first time Newton had been sacked more than seven times in his career.
The Eagles had such success because they consistently collapsed the pocket around Newton, as you can see above. They rarely gave him escape routes and the defensive backs covered well enough to not let him release the ball quickly.
In addition to defensive linemen winning one-on-one battles, Davis also called on Connor Barwin to spy Newton. The outside linebacker finished the game with 3.5 sacks, and appears poised to resume his role on Sunday.
“One thing about Cam is you can spy him and run with him, but then can you tackle him? Because he’s so good.” Davis said. “So Connor has got a good mix of size, speed and athleticism, and is a good matchup. So we did spy him last year with Connor, and it was because of how big he is.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
Breaking down how each key play happened in the Eagles’ win over the Giants on Monday night.
“Kelly has an accomplished quarterback sitting on the sidelines.” What they’re saying about the Eagles.
Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks returned to practice on Wednesday, and more injury news.
A look at the most telling stats from the Eagles’ revitalized defense through six games.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
David Murphy says Sam Bradford’s interceptions don’t signify doom for the Eagles.
When Bradford hasn’t been throwing interceptions, he has been presiding over an offense that has looked pretty darn good as of late. The goal isn’t to minimize the interceptions, but to isolate them. If the guy went, say, 11-for-30 for 141 yards with four interceptions, that would be one thing. But he has completed 67.5 percent of his passes, while averaging 7.4 yards per attempt the last two weeks. He threw 14 incompletions against the Giants, including two throwaways, one clock spike and one drop.
Interceptions matter, but they happen. In his career, Bradford has been picked off on 2.4 percent of his pass attempts, which is a solid number (Tom Brady: 2.0 percent). Sanchez, by comparison, has been picked off on 3.7 percent of his career attempts. This season, Bradford has been picked off on 3.9 percent of his throws.
Nolan Carroll hadn’t seen the end zone for quite some time before returning an interception for a touchdown against New York, writes Bob Ford.
In the opening game of his senior season at Clay High School near Jacksonville, Fla., Nolan Carroll II, one of the most highly-recruited wide receivers in the talent-rich state, caught a pass on a deep slant route, shook past an oncoming safety and took the ball some 60 yards for a touchdown.
“That’s the last time I scored a touchdown,” Carroll said Wednesday after practice at the NovaCare Complex.
Chip Kelly will address the media at 11:45 a.m.