- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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Short and sweet: Remember when we made issue over Cam Newton not going deep enough in a Week 1 12-7 loss to Seattle? He then went deep often the following week and the Panthers lost 24-23. The past three games he has seldom taken a chance downfield and the Panthers are undefeated. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Newton's average target depth has gone from 10.1 yards (fifth-highest among quarterbacks) during a 1-3 start to 6.5 during a 3-0 run. His completion percentage has improved from 57.5 to 77.3. His touchdown-to-interception ratio has improved from 6-5 to 6-0. He was an amazing 20-for-24 on passes that traveled 10 or fewer yards against the Bucs for 171 yards and two touchdowns. Keeping it short and sweet works.
Five and alive: Defensive fronts of five men or more gave the Panthers fits in the first four games, particularly a Game 4 loss at Arizona in which Newton was sacked seven times. On Thursday, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Newton faced five or more pass-rushers on 49 percent of his dropbacks. He completed 73.3 percent of his passes for 83 yards and both touchdowns against that front. Tampa Bay had allowed only two touchdowns when sending five or more pass-rushers in its first six games. After the Arizona game, Newton had thrown two touchdowns and four interceptions against five-man fronts. The offensive line and Newton seemingly have figured this out.
Bonus Newton: Newton doesn't want credit for Carolina's recent success, but there's no denying he deserves it. Here's an interesting statistic ESPN's crackerjack crew dug up. Thursday's game was the 15th time Newton has passed for at least 200 yards with a touchdown pass and touchdown run. That ties him with John Elway and Donovan McNabb for the fourth most of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era. The only active quarterback with more is Michael Vick with 17. Steve Young has the most at 21. That's pretty good company Newton is keeping.
Less means more: DeAngelo Williams didn't touch the ball on Carolina's first 12 plays. That seemed kind of odd because he is the team's leading rusher and has been a big part of the running game all season. But that was the game plan going in and it worked. Although Williams had only eight carries, he averaged a season-best 5.4 yards per carry -- better than his 4.2 yards-per-carry average on the season. The Panthers finished with 4.8 yards a carry, almost double what they had the previous week. Newton, by the way, led the team in rushing with 11 carries for a season-high 50 yards and one touchdown. This could be more of what we see moving forward with Jonathan Stewart, the team's second all-time leading rusher, expected to come off the physically unable to perform list next week.
Seeing red: Carolina scored on four of five trips inside the Tampa 20-yard line, which should move them up from ninth in the NFL in red zone scoring. Going for it on fourth down in the third quarter certainly helped the red zone touchdown percentage. Instead of settling for a field goal, the Panthers gambled on fourth-and-1 and won. They now have been successful on four of their past six fourth-and-1 tries. Coach Ron Rivera's willingness to take chances shows just how much faith he has not only in his offense, but his No. 3-ranked defense.