How Cam Newton’s legs power Panthers’ offense

Punching a ticket to Super Bowl 50, much of Carolina's offensive success stems from Cam Newton's rushing ability.

| 8 months ago
(Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)

(Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)

How Cam Newton’s legs power Panthers’ offense


Whether he was “dabbin” after a first down or diving his way into the end zone, yesterday was another big game for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

He may have missed out on being PFF’s regular season MVP to Carson Palmer, who has subsequently struggled in the playoffs, but Newton has brought his incredible regular season form into the postseason and has been a major reason why Carolina is headed to Super Bowl 50. The NFL’s version of Superman can’t take all the credit, with the Panthers also boasting one of the best defenses in the league, but Carolina’s offense has been virtually unstoppable all year, and he’s been the force driving it.

Including the playoffs, Newton has now accounted for 50 touchdowns this season, with 38 coming through the air, and another 12 on the ground. A big part of his success, though, has been avoiding turnovers, and with the exception of the interception to Patrick Peterson on an overthrow, yesterday was no different than the rest of the year.

But what really makes Newton so dangerous is that he can simultaneously dominate a game as a passer and as a runner. Since entering the league in 2011, three of the top five single-season rushing grades for a quarterback belong to Newton, with Russell Wilson claiming the other two. It’s not just when he scrambles, either. Newton is actually the most dangerous runner on Carolina’s offense when designed runs are called, averaging 4.9 and 4.1 yards per carry off left and right end, respectively, this season.

We saw his prowess on the touchdown drive at the end of the third quarter against Arizona on two gigantic runs. On 3rd-and-10 with 2:49 remaining, he bounced the run outside and had picked up 5 yards before safety Chris Clemons could make contact with him. That initial tackle attempt didn’t matter, given Newton’s power. The monstrous quarterback muscled forward for another 6 yards and the first down. Then, on the very next play, the Panthers ran power to the right, with Newton following the pull blocks of center Ryan Kalil and right guard Trai Turner before leaping and flipping into the end zone, giving his Panthers a 34-7 lead.

That touchdown was a perfect glimpse at what makes the Panthers’ rushing attack so dangerous. Newton showcased his speed and power combination, and the Carolina offensive line executed their pull blocks to perfection. The strength of their offensive line is on the interior, particularly at guard with Andrew Norwell and Turner, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious just how difficult it is for an opposing defense to stop a run when that much momentum is coming at you.

Newton might not be having as successful a season this year if not for the ability of players like Turner and Norwell in front of him, but when you combine their blocking ability with just how tough he is to bring down, it makes for one of the most dynamic offenses in the league.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • SpringsGal

    Broncos interior defensive line with Jackson, Wolfe and Williams have to step up the game. They will have their hands full trying to stop the running game along with Marshall and Trevethan.

    • Allen

      The biggest issue defending the Panthers isn’t actually the execution as much as it is diagnosing the plays. The Panthers have about 5 base sets they operate out of but because of Newton’s ability as a runner they have a ridiculous diversity of plays that they can run while presenting identical pre snap looks. From a standard single back set they can go option, read option, zone read, standard zone runs, dives, power, sweeps, jet sweeps, qb power, qb bootleg runs, standard passes, play action, and draws. Combine that with Newton’s concealment ability at the mesh point and you can’t zero in on the play until it’s already happening and that compromises execution.

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        well said

  • edromeo

    Mike Shula is underappreciated for his willingness and ability to build an offense around his QB unique skill set. Too many OCs are married to their ‘system’ and are either uninterested or unable to build a scheme like Shula/Cam. Tip of the cap. Why he’s not HC for Kaep or Mariota I’ll never understand.

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      well, in fairness, he’s the only OC with a cam newton to unleash in such an offense.

      • edromeo

        Kaepernick, Mariota,Griffin, Tyrod (although the Bills do make use of his running ability in their scheme)

        • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

          tyrod is 50 lbs lighter. griffin can’t take a hit and is still 30 lbs lighter. mariota, again, smaller but he is stacked just seems TEN doesn’t WANT to unleash him. kaep, he is a physical comparison, yes. but kaep doesn’t scare anyone throwing the ball so it’s easier to contain his legs since they’re his main threat

          • edromeo

            Quite right, those QB are not replicas of Cam. But they have similar skillset in terms of running threat.
            Griffin was in a similar offense as a rookie as was Kaep and the Bills and Titans sprinkle in some read-option. But currently no offense matches Carolina’s diversity and commitment to running game (and offense) that features the QB as a run threat. (SB excluded,lol)

            In my view the stodgy and insular NFL coaching circles are too rigid and narrow in their view of offense. Eventually there will be more coaches like Shula and Chip(if wasn’t such a prick apparently)