CHARLOTTE — During Cam Newton’s rookie season, there was occasional talk about the Carolina Panthers limiting how often they allowed their franchise quarterback to run.
It didn’t come from the team’s offensive linemen.
“We’re not saying that,” left tackle Jordan Gross said.
After running just five times in a Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay, Newton rushed for a career-high 71 yards on 13 carries last weekend in a 35-27 win against New Orleans. Newton also posted his second-highest passer rating (129.2) against the Saints by completing 14 of 20 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown.
Gross does not believe that’s a coincidence.
“When he runs, it causes problems for defenses. That 40-yard run he had (in the first quarter) shows you it’s not like he’s just a slow quarterback running,” Gross said. “He’s a threat on the ground. He threw the ball well, too. I think he plays better when he’s doing all that stuff. He kind of gets more in the groove of things and he throws the ball better and just has a better day usually.”
The Panthers are 6-3 when Newton rushes for at least 50 yards, but 1-4 when he is their leading rusher.
Rob Chudzinski’s offense seems to be at its best when the zone read package is clicking, as it was against the Saints when Newton read his keys and either handed the ball to a running back or kept it himself. The Panthers rushed for 219 yards a week after tying a franchise low with 10 rushing yards against Tampa Bay.
New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose team visits Charlotte on Thursday (8 p.m., NFL Network), said Panthers running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart make the zone read even more dangerous.
“You’ve got concerns because not only are they looking to read certain individuals in your defensive front, they’re also setting up other things by his reaction,” Coughlin said. “Not simply if you keep, pull or pitch, all that comes to prevail. When you have a couple of obvious runners the ability of Williams and Stewart, it puts more pressure on you because you can’t arm tackle those guys.”
The same goes for the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton, whose 14 rushing touchdowns last season were the most by a quarterback in league history. The Panthers believe Newton’s size and strength – combined with his knack for avoiding the big hit – make him less susceptible to injury than other mobile quarterbacks such as Michael Vick.
Coach Ron Rivera said Newton knows when to make another move, and when to slide.
“He gets hit, but not big. And I think there’s a difference in that, as well,” Rivera said. “And a lot of the runs that we have are calculated. He’s reading for the most part as to whether or not it’s a good idea to hand it off or keep it.
“But it doesn’t hurt my feelings when he hands it off, though. I’m going to be honest. I do worry about him when he’s out there.”
Newton took every snap as a rookie until Week 16, when Derek Anderson came in at the end of a 48-16 win against Tampa Bay. Including this season, Newton has yet to miss a play due to injury.
“It’s Cam Newton, 6-5, 250-255 pounds. He’s built like a horse,” fullback Mike Tolbert said. “So he’s ready to roll all the time. I’m not worried about him taking a hit.”