TEMPE, Ariz. -- If facing the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick in back-to-back weeks wasn’t enough, the Arizona Cardinals have spent the short week leading up to their wild card game preparing for another mobile quarterback.
And he may be the toughest of the three.
While Cam Newton is similar to Wilson and Kaepernick because he relies on his feet to make plays, he’ll present the Cardinals with an entirely different set of challenges because of his size and because he runs between the tackles.
“Cam is a big tight end running in there,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “When they start running speed sweeps sideways, they’re also running the power downhill with the quarterback. That’s a very unusual offense to run in the NFL. They’ve done it quite successfully the last month.
“It presents different problems when you’re dealing with options, speed sweeps or quarterback sweeps because then, all of a sudden, it’s a counter play this way and a power play with a quarterback running the ball and the tight end going down a seam. There are a lot of things to get ready for in a short week.”
The quarterback sweep gives Newton options. It could also give the Cardinals headaches.
Newton has run for 539 yards this season -- 197 coming in his last three games played -- but the majority of his yards (290) this season have come outside the tackles, with 256 coming between the guards.
Defending the run, especially quarterbacks, in their last four games has been a weak spot for the Cardinals. The 6.4 yards per rush Arizona has allowed since Week 14 is the most in the NFL in that span. Wilson averaged 10.1 yards per rush and Kaepernick 6.2 against the Cardinals.
Newton averaged 5.23 yards per rush this season.
The key to slowing Newton on the quarterback sweep is keeping the edge secure.
“As long as you have someone that’s assigned to it, it should be good,” Cardinals defensive end Matt Shaughnessy said. “Usually he gets around that corner when you bit on his play fakes, like the dive. Just as long as you have your eyes good and can see who has the ball, you should be able to play it well.”
The Panthers have studied how Arizona plays mobile quarterbacks. They had plenty of tape to watch since Arizona played Seattle and San Francisco a combined four times this season, going 1-3. Using a spy will be part of Arizona’s game plan against Newton, but Arians said the Cards can’t overuse it. If they do, the running backs will get more opportunities because Arizona will be a gap short, he added.
But the Panthers have a good feel for how Arizona uses a spy against mobile quarterbacks. Carolina coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers have an idea of what to anticipate from Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
“They have brought pressure and tried to make sure they contained the side opposite of where they are bringing the pressure from,” Rivera said. “And they hug rush an awful lot in terms of their man coverages. Some of those things you watch and try to get a feel for what they are trying to do.”
None of what Arizona tries on Newton may matter, however, if they can’t get him down.
The Cardinals had 27 missed tackles in their last two games, a major reason why Wilson and Kaepernick combined for 151 yards on 13 carries in the last two games of the season against Arizona. Having just played them will help Arizona prepare for the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton, but it will be irrelevant if Arizona can’t tackle.
“Once someone gets there, they need to make sure they wrap him up,” Arizona nose tackle Dan Williams said. “He’s a big guy, tough runner, fast. He’s just a big dude.
“For the type of athleticism he has and the speed he has, you got to make sure you get two arms around him and make sure you can bring him down.”