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Eagles seek more than one way to skin a Cat in Carolina…

The “Cat” is the most valuable Panther, QB Cam Newton. He is playing great again his last two games after shaking off the rust of not being able to practice in preseason. He’s charismatic again, he’s SuperMan, he’s all that and a bag of Cheetos.

Cam plays great when he’s healthy, motivated and having fun. Check all those boxes right now.

Cam doesn’t play so great when he’s frustrated by plays that don’t work or by bad field position, and when he’s taking excessive contact from the opposing defense.

The Eagles have 60 minutes on Thursday night to either neutralize Cam’s current hot streak defensively,  or to somehow out-Cam him by scoring more points on offense than he does.

I went back and researched a guy named Luke Kerr-Dineen of USA Today 

He wrote an article last year which pretty much provided the blueprint for beating Cam Newton. It’s worth a synopsis re-read, in my opinion:

“The best part of Rocky IV is the one most people don’t even notice.

“Early in his fight with Ivan Drago, Rocky opens with a series of hard punches to Drago’s body. Drago laughs, so ineffective it seems, and at one point even lets him do it. But Rocky’s trainer yells at him to keep going, so he does. Rocky chips away, each punch inching one more piece into the giant Russian log that is Ivan Drago.”

“It ends in the final round, when Rocky downs Drago by gunning for his head — the final straw for a man that has already been physically defeated.”

The point Luke is making is that, despite the fictional nature of the Rocky vs. Super Russian Man movie script, you can wear a superhero down with repeated body punches. Then you go for the head shot. In this case, we are talking football, not boxing, so the analogy seems to be the more the Eagles can frustrate Cam Newton with pass-breakups, spy coverage, poor field position and at least occasional pass-rush pressures and sacks, they will eventually get into his head causing frustration and ultimately loss of interest—which is how you beat Cam Newton.

To be perfectly clear, I am not a big fan of the Rocky fight sequences. They are not realistic in the purest sense of the sport of boxing. Stallone is awkward and plodding in his athletic performance in these movies, but the real blame goes to the director and editors of the fight scenes. They make boxing look like an adult version of the Punch and Judy show….or the old hand-control game “Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots”…

Anyway, back to Luke’s diagnosis of Cam Newton’s inherent weakness:

He hates physical pressure. It annoys him because it doesn’t give him room to be Super Cam. He also hates the feeling of being hemmed in. If you put a spy on him, he wants to outsmart you, which sometimes leads to an overthrow or a reckless decision to take off with the ball.

The Broncos first tried out the max-D-pressure thing on Cam last season in Game 1, but Minnesota really turned the screws on the theory in Game 2 of 2016:

“Carolina lost 64 yards on eight sacks, and that doesn’t include the other 12 hits the Vikings laid on Newton. At one point Cam was taken out of the game to get checked before getting subbed back in. The Panthers had flown to a 10-2 lead but, in many ways, it was incidental. The steam kept leaking out, until the Vikings’ 20 unanswered points secured Cam his second loss of the season.”

The Panthers as you know never really recovered from those first two losses last season, after finishing the previous 2015 regular season at 15-1 in which Cam was rarely pressured so violently. Back then the idea was “to contain” Cam, not to pressure him…you don’t pull on SuperMan’s cape!

Ahh, he’s a superb athlete and one day he will be even smarter PR-wise and serve as a public spokesperson for the NFL. But even Clark Kent had growing pains at the Daily Planet.

I don’t think you can bet all your defensive scheme on physically body-punching Cam into submission right now, because his offensive line is much improved and he has outlet weapons like RB/slot receiver Christian McCaffrey and TE Ed Dickson as escape accomplices. The Panthers also have huge wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin at 6-5, 245 pounds, and Devin Funchess at 6-4 and 225 pounds, to bail Cam out on comeback routes. So even if you get in his face, Cam can still find an open guy.

So I would take the approach of employing a different kind of body punch.

By combining the double-effect of a changed-up pass rush (meaning different guys take turns going after Cam while other guys on the line stay home to contain), and assigning a middle-level guy to spy on Cam, I think you can raise the anxiety level of Cam’s thought process. Combine that idea with a strategic emphasis on field position, forcing Cam to get even more conservative in his ambition to make big plays, and I think you get into his head— not the kind of “head shot” Rocky got on Drago, but similar in effect.

For example, say it’s 14-14 with 9 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter… Doug Pederson has a decision to make with the Eagles 4th-and-3 at the 50-yard line… Do you go for it or do you elect to have Donny pooch a punt just out of bounds at the Panthers’ 10 yard line?

I would go with the punt and play for field position… The reason being if you have generated enough confusion to Cam’s offensive plan so far to limit him to 14 points, then why not pin him back into horrible field position? This is a classic situation where Cam’s frustration gets the best of him. He tends to try to do too much in these situations. This is when a play breaks down and Cam takes off on his own. Or he tries to throw a 12-point touchdown pass.

Now, if Cam starts running, you can lay a legal body punch on Cam downfield…because he rarely slides feet-first and instead takes on the contact full-frontal.

Then he gets angry at you, his teammates and everything else that’s wrong with the world. He gets frustrated. That’s when he is about to make his game-changing mistake. You are now in his head.

This is the bring-down moment you want and it has very little to do with physical beating and more with mental wear-down.

It will be just as difficult for Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense to fight through their own issues in this one.  As Tommy Lawlor wrote for PE.com, “Carolina runs a 4-3 defense that loves to rush four and play zone behind that. They have great linebackers who can cover and make plays all over the field.”

Wentz will take his fair share of body shots and frustrations in this one, to be sure. But the difference I see between him and Cam is that Wentz won’t take it as a personal challenge to his playmaking ability. He won’t let frustration get into his head. He has learned to opt for the safe play over the reactionary super-play and trust his defense and his special teams to provide a new set of downs to try something else that can work.

Cam is an extremely gifted and intelligent quarterback. The trick is to get him to outsmart himself.

 

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