GREEN BAY—Panthers quarterback Cam Newton harkens memories of Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and some big games mobile quarterbacks have had against the Packers in recent years. Those games include one by Newton in his rookie season, when he threw for 432 yards and rushed for 53, though the Packers won the game.
What is it about "New Age" quarterbacks that have caused the Packers so much difficulty?
"If you put two out there, they're going to throw the quick screen. If you put three out there, they're going to run the ball," Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said.
He was referring to the spread formation and how it's defensed. Most defenses will use three defenders to cover two wide receivers on each side of the field, which leaves five defenders against seven offensive players in the box, and that leaves the offense with a man advantage, provided the quarterback is a runner. Newton, very definitely, is a runner.
"You're seeing more and more guys like that," Capers said. "If you run the ball 17 times, you're going to take some shots, but he's as big as those linebackers that are hitting him."
At 6-5, 245, Newton possesses size, speed and strength similar to Kaepernick, who has been a special thorn in the Packers' side. Sunday's game at Lambeau Field offers another opportunity for the Packers defense to prove it can defeat a read-option quarterback.
"He can place the ball anywhere on the field. He's a hard guy to get off his feet. When he runs the ball, he's bigger than the guy he hands off to," Capers said of Newton, who's coming off a game in which he passed for 284 yards and rushed for 107.
Newton's counterpart, Aaron Rodgers, is coming off a game in which he led the Packers on a game-winning drive that culminated with a touchdown pass with three seconds left on the clock. Rodgers will be facing a Panthers defense that was No. 2 overall last season, but has fallen hard in the early stages of this season, to No. 26 overall and No. 27 against the run.
"It's a different year," Packers Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said. "They're still formidable. We have to play our best against them."
The Panthers' struggles against the run would seem to shine the spotlight on Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who had a breakout game against the Vikings but slumped to 40 yards on 14 carries in Miami last Sunday.
"We always try to utilize both parts of our offense. We're concerned about what we do. We're trying to increase our quality of play no matter who the opponent is," Clements said.
The Panthers have also struggled in kickoff and punt coverage this season, and Packers Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum said "we should have some return opportunities and we should capitalize on that."
It was a 17-yard punt return by Micah Hyde that kick-started the Packers' game-winning drive in Miami. Hyde is sharing punt-return duties with Randall Cobb, and it would seem that's a strategy that will continue.
"We're fortunate to have two really good punt returners. (Hyde) makes good decisions. He has a lot of courage. He has a knack for making people miss. Randall brings a different skill set. They're a good complement and I think it can be an advantage for us. It's like having two running backs. It's a change of pace," Slocum said.
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - OCT. 17