HOUSTON (CBS Radio) – The Texans will try to avoid starting out the season with two straight losses when they travel to Carolina this weekend. But they know that task won’t be easy when they face the Panthers, who are coming off a 20-9 win over the Jaguars, and their dual-threat quarterback, Cam Newton.
“He has a very strong arm, very accurate arm,” Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said. “He’s big, he’s 6’5”, 250 pounds, very difficult guy to sack. There’s not many guys like that in the league. I would equate that to kind of a (Ben) Roethlisberger – a very difficult guy to bring down as far as just pocket passer and sacking him.
“Then you add on the fact that he runs a read-option, quarterback power, all the things he does scramble-wise,” O’Brien added. “This guy is a dangerous player and he’s a great player. He’s a big challenge for our team.”
After winning the Heisman Trophy in 2010 and leading his Auburn Tigers to the national title, the Panthers chose Newton with the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He was named the starting quarterback his rookie season and was named the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. In his first four years with Carolina, he has thrown for 14,601 yards and 83 touchdowns and has added 2,606 yards and 33 touchdowns on the ground. He was also named to the Pro Bowl in 2011 and 2013.
“He’s a guy that can make all the throws on the field,” Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph said. “I think he’s taken the next step in his game to do that to where he can sit in the pocket and look all over the field and make every throw.
“Then of course you always have to account for his legs because he’s big and strong,” Joseph added. “He can kind of shake defenders off and extend plays, and then at the same time, he can take off running for a 50, 60-yard touchdown and beat you with his legs also.”
Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney says he’s been watching Newton for years.
“Since he was in college,” Clowney said. “I know he likes to get outside that pocket and make a lot of plays with his legs. Hopefully, keep him in the pocket and get him to the ground and make him become a passer.”
J.J. Watt thinks the Panthers’ offensive line works well together and is looking forward to facing that unit, but the Texans also have to watch out for Newton’s favorite target and 2014 Pro Bowler, tight end Greg Olsen, who had 84 catches for 1,008 yards last season.
“Well this guy is a really good player,” O’Brien said. “He’s a big guy, 6’6”, 250-pound guy, can run, he can jump and catch, so he’s a big challenge for us.”
But Newton and the offense aren’t the only concerns for the Texans. Inside linebacker Luke Kuechly anchors a tough Panthers defense. Kuechly was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and was a Pro Bowler in 2013 and 2014.
“Well, Kuechly two out of the last three years has led the NFL in tackles,” O’Brien said. “I mean this guy is one of the best linebackers in the game – instinctive, smart, touch, studies film. This guy is a hell of a football player.”
Carolina’s defense has ranked in the top 10 each of the last three seasons, so the Texans’ offense knows it faces a huge challenge this weekend.
“Those guys get the ball out very well,” Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. “They cause a lot of turnovers and they’ve got a middle linebacker that’s been around the league for a while and knows a lot about offenses. We’ve got to come out and execute our game plan. We can’t start off like we did last week or it’s going to hurt us.”
“I mean they’re a good defensive front,” Texans offensive lineman Derek Newton said. “The linebackers are good, defensive line is good, safeties, so it’s all about us putting in the work we need to put in this week to be better than we were last week. I feel like we were off to a great start today.”
Panthers wide receiver Ted, Ginn, Jr. is back with the team this season and will pose a dangerous threat to Texans’ special teams coverage, which has struggled in recent years and that was no different in their season opening loss when they gave up 81 yards on five punt returns and 30 yards on one kickoff return.
“We better improve a whole lot, on our punt team especially,” O’Brien said. “He’s a punt returner, had a long of 37 last game, 37-yard return. He averaged 15 yards per return. He’s a very, very fast guy. He’s been doing it. He’s got the green light. He can field the punt wherever he wants and it’s a big challenge for us.”
The Panthers have their weapons, but they know those weapons will face a huge challenge in J.J. Watt.
“He does have the ability to impact and change games,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. “You’ve got to have an answer. You can’t commit 100 percent focus on him, though, because they’ve got enough quality football players that if you let him pull you away from what you do, it’s going to be tough. We know who he is and again, we’re going to look at the things that we have to do to try and slow him down at least.”
“He’s a dynamic player,” Newton said. “Obviously, he is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, MVP, All-Pro. The list goes on, but we’re going to be prepared for him. I expect that our preparation in this week’s practice is going to carry over to the game