BOSTON (CBS) — Cam Newton hasn’t looked like the same player he’s been in recent years, but Bill Belichick is not taking the Panthers quarterback lightly.
Speaking at his Wednesday press conference ahead of the Patriots’ showdown with the Panthers in Foxboro on Sunday, Belichick spoke glowingly of Newton as a player. He praised the quarterback’s rare combination of size, arm strength, running ability, and decision-making that makes him one of the toughest players to defend in the NFL when he’s on top of his game.
“I think when you’re talking about mobile quarterbacks, guys that are tough to handle, tackle, can throw, run, make good decisions – I mean, I would put Newton at the top of the list,” said Belichick. “Not saying that there aren’t a lot of other good players that do that, but I would say, of all the guys we play or have played recently in the last couple of years, I would definitely put him – he’s the hardest guy to deal with. He makes good decisions, he can run, he’s strong, he’s hard to tackle. He can do a lot of different things, beat you in a lot of different ways.
“We saw that in the game down there in ‘13, so I would put him at the top of the list. Not saying the other guys aren’t a problem, because they are, but he’s public enemy No. 1.”
The game in question was the last time the Patriots played the Panthers in the regular season, when Carolina won 24-20 on Monday Night Football in Charlotte. Though the game ended on a controversial non-call that arguably cost the Patriots a potential game-winning touchdown, Newton earned the win with a dominating performance. He was 19-for-28 passing for 209 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in that game, adding seven rushes for 62 yards.
Newton was the league MVP and a First Team All-Pro in 2015, but his Panthers lost Super Bowl 50 to the Broncos and he struggled for most of the following season. His issues have carried into 2017, as he has posted a poor 69.7 passer rating in his first three games. Last week against the same Saints defense that Tom Brady shredded in Week 2, Newton was 17-for-26 for 167 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions. He hasn’t been much better on the ground, rushing 14 times for just 46 yards (a 3.29-yard average) with one rushing touchdown on the season.
Still, if there were a defense that could give Newton a chance to bounce back, it could be the Patriots with the way they’ve played on that side of the ball so far in 2017. They’re last in the NFL with 331 passing yards allowed per game and second-to-last with a 112.9 passer rating from opposing quarterbacks. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson also rushed eight times for 41 yards (a 5.1-yard average) last Sunday, which could mean big things for Newton when he carries the ball himself on Sunday.
Belichick knows the defense can be better, but he also knows that Newton could regain his MVP form and go off at any time. The Patriots are better off preparing for Newton as if he’s playing like the All-Pro and former NFC champion that he is.