There are plenty of critics for Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton around just waiting to pop out whenever the former top overall pick has a poor performance. Although much of the scrutiny Newton endures is brought on by both his on and off field demeanor, there’s no denying the talent he has. That’s why he must be the top priority for the St. Louis Rams’ defense on Sunday when Jeff Fisher’s squad makes the trip to the east coast in Week 7.
The Rams have terrific pass rushers in Robert Quinn and Chris Long, but a quarterback like Newton is the ideal nullifier on the prototypical pass rush. While Quinn and Long rush the edge, getting up field to where Newton is supposed to be, the mobile quarterback can tuck the ball and run to pick up large amounts of yardage with his legs. Clearly this has to be a concern for St. Louis heading into this contest that they must account for.
One way to compensate for this would be to use linebacker James Laurinaitis as a spy on Newton during obvious passing downs to prevent that type of breakdown from taking place. Having the veteran keep an eye on Newton would give the rest of the defense the freedom to focus on their responsibilities rather than worrying about when or if the QB is going to take off running.
Another neutralizer could be rookie Alec Ogletree who has made great strides already this season from an instinctual perspective. Nowhere was that anymore evident than last week when he jumped a pass down near the goal line against the Houston Texans and took it back the other way 98 yards for a touchdown. If Ogletree is able to hang out in zone coverage and utilize those developing instincts to swarm to the ball if Newton takes off the Rams should be in good shape.
The run game is a huge part of Newton’s arsenal, but he also has quite an arm that is capable of fitting the ball into tight windows when called upon. Even though the Carolina receiving corps won’t scare you in terms of star power, the aging Steve Smith still has speed to burn and the unknown Brandon LaFell is more than capable of finding soft spots in coverage and picking up substantial yards after the catch. St. Louis must be careful not to get mesmerized by Newton and forget about the guys running routes in the secondary.
It’s easy to point out all of these potential pitfalls, but it’s much more difficult to avoid them as a defense. Coach Fisher needs to devise a plan that will keep the Rams gap sound while still keeping Newton under wraps if he decides to improvise. This is easier said than done, but the Rams have the personnel to take care of business on Sunday.