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There are a lot of reasons Texans coach Gary Kubiak could be concerned about the Carolina Panthers.
But there is but one nuance that just seems to just leap off the game tape.
“Quarterback jumps out at you. I just told the team, I said, ‘Hey guys, I’d love to tell you we can give you a good look in practice of what you’re going to face this week, but we can’t,”’ Kubiak admitted this week about his team’s challenge Sunday when the Panthers and rookie quarterback Cam Newton come into Reliant Stadium. “We’re going to do our best. You got to respect what he is as an athlete and what he can do to you.”
And there are so many things Newton can do to teams and he has done many of them as a rookie. The kid who many questioned whether or not he could even play quarterback in the NFL has been flat out unbelievable and as difficult as any quarterback in recent memory to contain.
You try to take away his passing options and he beats you running back-like runs out of the option no less. Take away the passing lanes and that cannon of an arm will dart one 60 yards down field to Steve Smith.
“He keeps plays going and that’s what you have to be aware of,” said Texans inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who likely spend a great deal of time as Newton’s personal spy Sunday. “He extends plays by scrambling around the pocket or out of the pocket and he has the ability to throw a lot of deep routes down field. So we are going to have to stay in coverage a lot longer when he’s scrambling. Guys can’t come up and everybody can’t just chase after him when he’s running away from the pocket.”
Let’s not get too carried away because the Texans have faced their share of quarterbacks with an assortment of different strengths this season and come out of it okay. But they have yet to face an athlete that embodies so many of the intangibles that have game-changing quarterback of the future written all over Newton.
As luck would have it, the Texans face perhaps their most complex quarterback challenge in a week that has been difficult at best. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who has been the architect and lone play caller of the new 3-4 scheme won’t be anywhere near Reliant on Sunday after having successful kidney and gallbladder surgery this week.
The pressure of containing Newton falls to linebackers coach Reggie Herring, who is the fill-in defensive coordinator until Phillips returns from his medical leave.
There are certainly easier first assignments than having to figure out the most dangerous first-year quarterback the NFL has seen since dare I say John Elway.
“They have great capability at every position,” Herring said this week not long after learning he would be taking over for Phillips. “They’ve got (Steve) Smith at wide out. They’ve got the two tight ends that are a tremendous threat vertical down the field. Both their running backs can scat and bounce and cut back with great vision and the quarterback is really quite a physical specimen.
“He can throw the ball 60 yards on a rope. He can avoid. He can evade. He can create on the run. He is young and we just got to hope that some of the mistakes that he makes that we can help create those. When he gets a lot of at bats, he’s going to hit a couple home runs.”
But Newton can certainly be contained. He’s talented and as explosive as they come, but he’s still a rookie. If you don’t play Newton right, he can throw for 400 yards on you and run in a couple long ones for touchdowns.
But he has shown the ability to make rookie mistakes, misreading coverage, underestimating the speed of a closing linebacker. Newton has passed for 3,573 yards while completing 60 percent of his passes but he also has 15 touchdown passes versus 16 interceptions.
That suggests a rather human-like quality for the young man who has seemed to make few mistakes since first stepping on the football field for Auburn last year. He quarterbacked the Tigers to the BCS national title while guaranteeing himself a spot among football royalty as the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner.
And the No.1 draft pick overall in last spring’s draft has been the difference in the Panthers (4-9) being an easy win and one you have to work hard to beat.
“He’s a tough guy to limit,” Ryans said. “When you get a chance, of course, get some big hits on him and pressure on him and just frustrate him in the pocket as much as we can.
“This is going to be one of our toughest challenges this year.”
Perhaps the toughest challenge this week fell to 36-year-old veteran Jake Delhomme, who had the pleasure of simulating Newton all week in practice. Instead seeing the actual pictures in practice the Texans defensive players have had to settle for hearing what Newton could have done to them.
“Jake (Delhomme) has done his best to run the option,” Kubiak said, “but he can only go so far at 36.”
So it’s easy to see why the quarterback in Carolina is causing Kubiak so many concerns.