“Very, very difficult. It’s hard. Anytime you’re facing a guy like that, it’s very rare,” Pagano said Friday, when asked how to simulate such a versatile threat. “We don’t have a guy that’s 6-9 and 350 and runs 4.4 in the building, so it’s hard. It’s hard, the timing, the option, the reads, the line, it’s very difficult to replicate that. Playing option teams back when I was in college it usually took a series or two to get going and catch the speed of the game and exactly how it happens. It isn’t triple option, sometimes it is, but it’s difficult.”
Pagano admittedly inflated Newton’s attributes for effect. The quarterback is listed at 6-5 and 245. But the fifth-year pro is as fast as advertised with a strong arm.
He’s the reason the Panthers are off to a 6-0 start, the best in franchise history, entering a primetime visit from the Colts, who are 3-4 after back-to-back home losses.
Consider one of the guys responsible for stopping Newton is Colts inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who stands 6-foot and weighs 242 pounds.
“He’s a dual threat. He can run the ball, he can pass the ball and they do a great job of running the read option,” said Jackson, whose 79 tackles lead the NFL. “With Cam, he has the arm strength to throw it 50 yards off his back foot and he’s also capable of breaking down the defense when there’s great coverage down the field. He’s elusive enough to gain first downs with his legs. He does a good job of mixing it up. I wouldn’t say he’s a run-first, pass guy second. He runs where the defense allows him to and that’s what makes him dangerous.”
The Colts are evidently buying into what Pagano's larger-than-listed depiction of Newton. Safety Mike Adams referred to Newton as 6-foot-9. If nothing else, they won’t have a problem spotting the Panthers’ most important player, who drives the NFL’s No. 1 rushing offense with a read option approach. The Colts are 23rd against the run.
“That’s difficult because (Jonathan) Stewart runs the ball well, and he runs the ball hard,” Adams said. “I’ve played against him numerous times. (Mike) Tolbert, he’s a load. Then on top of that, you’ve got Cam Newton, 6-9, running through the hole, running all fast. It causes a problem. At the same time, he can throw the ball a mile away. With Ted Ginn (Jr.) out there stretching the field, that causes us as a defense to think.”
Newton has rushed for 245 yards on 54 carries (4.5 yards per carry) with four touchdowns this season. He’s completed 55.8 percent of his passes for 1,275 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Because the Panthers lack depth in their receiving corps, it makes sense to expect a lot of rushing. Running back Jonathan Stewart has 423 rushing yards, 4.1 yards per carry, with two scores. Fullback Mike Tolbert, at 5-9 and 250, is used in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He’s run 20 times for 92 yards, 4.6 yards per carry, with one touchdown.
In his five-year NFL career, Newton has 2,816 rushing yards, a 5.4-yards-per-carry average and 37 touchdowns. He’s passed for 15,701 yards with a 59.2 completion percentage and 91 touchdowns opposite 61 interceptions. He’s taken 163 sacks, including 11 this season.
Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis recalls sacking a rookie Newton in 2011, and still sees a difficult player to bring down.
“Definitely not an easy guy to tackle,” said Mathis, whose two sacks this season raise his franchise-best career total to 113. “You kind of don’t want to see him running down the field full-speed ahead. You just have to, the guys have to, they have to be team defense. Everybody has to get to the football. Whoever has the football, everybody has got to get to him.”
Asked about remembering his sack of Newton, Mathis said, “I do, I do. I don’t know if he remembers that. It seems like a long time ago, which it’s really not that long ago. I do, but that’s ancient history in NFL terms.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.