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Can the New Orleans Saints Shut Down Cam Newton?

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Can the New Orleans Saints Shut Down Cam Newton?
photo courtesy of the Associated Press

The New Orleans Saints did not fare well against rookie dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin III last week, who tuned them up for 320 yards and two touchdowns on his way to a 139.9 quarterback rating.

Sunday, when New Orleans travels to Carolina, the defense will have to keep another quarterback with both run and pass capabilities in check. But unlike facing Griffin, the Saints know Newton and know how to contain him.

In two games last year, Newton completed just 31 passes for 382 yards. He threw three touchdown passes and two interceptions. He rushed the ball 13 times for 59 yards and a score on the ground.

Newton’s 191 yards and 1.5 touchdown throws per game shows he didn’t perform up to snuff in either appearance.

The reason why—well, at least one of them—was pressure.

Newton’s first pass against the Saints was a terrible throw. Steve Smith ran a seven-yard rout, but Newton threw it miserably behind him and right to Patrick Robinson.

Call it jitters or just a ball that flew errantly from Newton, but his sole interception was a mistake completely on himself. There was no pressure and no confusion.

The pressure came later in the first game.

The Saints brought seven men in the box and rushed six, as five players dropped into coverage.

With extra pass-rushers breaking through the line, Newton aimed toward Smith in single coverage but grossly overthrew him. Even if the pass had been on target, an extra defender came over to help.

On the next play, the Saints put five guys on the defensive line and then snuck Jonathan Vilma from the middle of the defense to the line on Newton’s left.

The Panthers never picked him up at all and Vilma ran untouched to crush Newton. The pass got off before the contact, but it was way off target.

Here’s another example from last season’s Week 5 win over Carolina. The Saints once again rush six defenders and get some depth on Newton’s left side. As he feels the pressure, he backpedals and throws off his back foot, sailing a pass to Brandon LaFell.

It was a good thing Newton did launch the pass too far, as LaFell was in double coverage.

It’s an easy theory to say pressure is how you beat a quarterback. It’s much harder in practice, especially when the passer can get out of trouble with his legs like Griffin and Newton.

Let’s look at last week’s game against Washington for some of the ways New Orleans brought pressure on Griffin.

The problem for New Orleans was that they didn’t really get a lot of pressure on Griffin. It wasn’t until the middle of the third quarter that the Saints got a blitzer through the Redskins' line clean.

Patrick Robinson came through the line untouched, as you see here, and forced Griffin to throw much earlier than he wanted. He still hit a target, but the ball was a bit high and awkward for tight end Fred Davis.

For the most part, however, the Redskins' offensive line did a great job protecting Griffin, even when the Saints brought six pass-rushers.

The coaching staff also did a great job game-planning by rolling Griffin out frequently to give him more time to throw and to keep defenders from having a clear shot. This also allowed Griffin the opportunity of be moving when he had to make a decision to throw or run.

The Saints must do a better job Sunday than they did in Week 1 getting pressure on the quarterback. Just like they did in both contests last season, bringing extra pass-rush help up to the line right before the snap can help New Orleans get to Newton.

Bringing that help from the outside may also help the Saints keep Newton contained in case he wants to run to evade the pass rush. Busting an extra defender up through the middle of the line allows Newton to bounce to the outside, where he can scan the field for receivers or run without the threat of gap-clogging linemen.

New Orleans doesn’t always have to get to Newton, or even bring him down with a sack. The Saints just have to  make Newton feel hurried, and preferably moving backward, where his natural tendency is to throw off his back foot, or when his weight is shifting back, which can get him in trouble.

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