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Blocking a big deal for Carolina receivers

12/3/2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you want a great example of what makes Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith special, check out quarterback Cam Newton's 56-yard run in the first quarter of Sunday's 27-6 victory over Tampa Bay.

Newton was ready to settle for a first down around his own 40-yard line. You can see him lower his shoulder for a brief second for one of his patented head-first dives and a modest 10- or 11-yard gain.

Then he saw Smith, sealing off cornerback Darrelle Revis about five yards in from the left sideline. He quickly maneuvered around the block, which ultimately took out safety Mark Barron and impeded the progress of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

A short gain suddenly became a season-best 56-yarder.

Newton might have gone all the way had he not been tripped -- yes, upon further review and much to the chagrin of offensive coordinator Mike Shula in the ribbing department, he was tripped -- by Dashon Goldson.

This is why the Panthers (9-3) should expect to be successful offensively in Sunday night's NFC showdown against the New Orleans Saints (9-3) at the Louisiana Superdome.

If you watched Seattle's 34-7 dismantling of the Saints on Monday night, if you saw the way quarterback Russell Wilson gashed New Orleans for 47 yards on eight carries, you can imagine Newton doing the same thing.

The potential is there not simply because Newton can and likes to run. It is there because he has Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon, who block as well or better than any group of receivers in the league.

"We're trying to call his runs very judiciously,'' coach Ron Rivera said. "We're trying to put him in a situation where we can minimize the contact he has to make.

"But I will say this, one thing you do notice is all of our receivers blocking downfield. [They] have all put themselves in position where they're cutting people off, getting in the way of people and flat out knocking them down.''

That minimizes the contact Newton takes. It also allows him to turn little plays into big ones.

Making receivers buy into becoming blockers -- at least efficient ones -- isn't easy. Shula believes his group has because Newton's long runs keep drives alive and create more opportunities for them to catch passes.

Rivera says having a quarterback of Newton's ability makes it an easier sell because receivers know their block not only could turn into a first down, but a touchdown.

"Some guys don't want to put themselves at risk,'' Rivera said. "You know, 'Oh, the ball is going to run away from me so I'm not going to block on this play.'

"What you want is for them to do it consistently every time there is a run play called so that they're in a position to block or cut somebody off.''

Because they never know when Newton will tuck the ball and run, the receivers constantly are looking for opportunities to block. They're one of the reasons Newton has led the team in rushing the past three games and in four of the last six.

After watching the way Wilson consistently got outside of the New Orleans containment to make plays with his legs and arm is even more motivation. If Newton can do the same that should open up the rest of the offense as it did for Wilson, who also threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns.

"Over the last few weeks, what's unfolded has just been the unselfishness of our whole team in my opinion,'' Shula said. "But speaking of our offense, [wide receivers blocking is ] one example.'