Two years ago, the Minnesota Vikings did as good a job as just about anyone over the last two years at limiting reigning MVP Cam Newton from doing much damage to their defense.
The Vikings limited Newton and the Carolina Panthers to just 13 points in a 31-13 win at frigid TCF Bank Stadium. Newton was beaten, battered and frostbitten in a game where it appeared as though he wanted nothing to do with outdoor football in Minnesota.
Since then, Newton has been as dominating as any quarterback in the league because he is a rare combination of size and arm strength.
Defenses have to pick their poison because Newton can beat opponents in a variety of ways and at all three levels of the defense. For the defensive tackles, that means clogging the middle running lanes to allow other defenders to swarm him from the edge.
“He’s a great player,” Shamar Stephen said. “They won all but one game before they got to the Super Bowl and you don’t get that by luck. He can run the ball at any time and they have plays where he takes a snap and runs it up the middle like a running back. We have to make sure that he doesn’t get anything in the middle so that our D-ends can collapse down on him and keep him from getting in the open field. That’s where he is the most dangerous.”
Once he gets loose, it’s up to the back seven of the defense to try to bring him down, which is no small task. At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, Newton is bigger than most linebackers, much less defensive backs.
Captain Munnerlyn is no stranger to Newton. They were teammates in Carolina and the same punishment he gives opposing defenders in games, he delivered to teammates in practice.
The biggest concern that Munnerlyn has imparted on his teammates is that Newton doesn’t avoid contact. If anything, he enjoys it.
“He’s a big guy and he likes contact – he loves contact,” Munnerlyn said. “He’s a guy that you definitely have to – I wouldn’t say you hit him low, but you’ve got to rough him up. He’s so big and strong. He’s a guy that can get out there. He’s one of the best in the league.”
There are plenty of elite quarterbacks in the NFL and each has his own forte that makes him special. Aaron Rodgers extends plays and delivers deep passes. Russell Wilson runs the read option like no other. Tom Brady throws darts. Drew Brees has uncanny deep accuracy. Ben Roethlisberger can make plays with defenders in his face.
[FOR RECENT VIDEOS, CLICK HERE]
What Newton does like no other is run the ball and bring the threat of the run to get one-on-one coverage deep downfield for his receivers. He is a unique dual threat because of his massive size and creates problems with both his arm and legs.
“He’s going to run it and he’s going to throw it,” cornerback Terence Newman said. “He’s a big body. There are some situations where they take advantage of him being able to run and make plays with his legs. That’s something we’re going to have be privy to.”
Perhaps the most pressure will be on the defensive ends. Newton reads them when he is running the option and, when he drops to pass, if given too much time, he can deliver passes 50 yards downfield.
Defensive end Brian Robison acknowledged the unique nature of plays Newton is capable of and the key will be to never lose sight of him.
“We’ve got to be aware of where he’s at in the pocket, we have to aware of the way we rush him,” Robison said. “The thing about him is that he adds a different element in that he has a lot of those designed runs made simply for him. You don’t have a lot of quarterbacks that are just going to do the QB power runs. He adds that element.”
The Vikings defense has built a reputation for itself of not allowing opponents to pile up points on them. In the 19 games since the start of the 2015 season, the Vikings have allowed only one team to score more than two touchdowns (Seattle on Dec. 6, 2015).
Perhaps no opponent will test that streak more than the Panthers and Newton. The Vikings have a game plan in place, but it will be predicated on all 11 players doing their job on every play and not making the mistakes that have made Newton famous for exploiting.
“You have to be sound up front, the guys in the back have to cover and that’s how you take care of that,” Newman said. “Cam can do a lot of things that can hurt you and everybody is going to have to handle their responsibilities because he takes advantage of most mistakes that he sees and their offense is good enough to make you pay with big plays.”