Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Dallas Cowboys when they face the undefeated Carolina Panthers (10-0) on Thanksgiving is limiting quarterback Cam Newton.
Newton is playing at a high level this season and is making a serious case for the MVP award. He has completed 56.9 percent of his passes, thrown for 20 touchdowns, rushed for 382 yards, and leads the team with six rushing touchdowns.
“He’s a great football player,” coach Jason Garrett said during Tuesday’s news conference. “He’s certainly a great athlete. He’s arguably the best athlete on the field. Sometimes you’ll see a defensive lineman put on him, or put a linebacker on him, and he’s bigger and faster than a lot of those guys that are trying to spy him and track him down. But you certainly have to have some kind of a plan for him.”
Newton’s versatility consistently poses as a major threat every week. It’s a major factor in why Carolina has yet to lose a game.
The Cowboys are arguably coming off their best defensive performance of the season, in terms of consistency, against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. They created the necessary pressure to seal a win, and the same effort will be needed against Newton.
“You just can’t let him make big plays and get going,” Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee said. “He’s talented in so many ways whether he’s throwing the football, or whether he’s running with the football. He’s an elusive guy but he’s also a big guy, and a strong guy, and he can run downhill.”
Lee will need to be a factor in limiting Newton’s production. He is second on the team in tackles with 71, and he will need to be able to read all the different schemes the Panthers can throw at the Cowboys.
“He has so many different talents that you have to rally, continue to tackle him in the run game, you have to continue to get pressure, and you can’t let him get out of the pocket and make plays,” Lee said. “It’ll be an extreme challenge, he’s having a fantastic year and we have to find a way to keep him down.”
Dallas has struggled with their pass rush all season. They have only 19 sacks this season, which ranks 23rd in the NFL.
However, the pass rush showed improvement against the Dolphins, and the Cowboys are hoping that trend.
“He can beat you in so many different ways,” Garrett said. “He can beat you within their scheme, he can beat you inside the pocket, and then when things break down he can certainly make a ton of plays with his feet.”
The Cowboys will need to limit Newton’s big-play ability if they want any chance at defeating the NFC’s lone undefeated team.