Tom Brady, Drew Brees and now Cam Newton.
Indeed, it gets no easier for the Redskins on Sunday when they visit the undefeated Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.
Although Newton is only completing 56-percent of his passes and his passer rating of 84.8 ranks just 21st, passing stats aren't why he’s in the MVP discussion with Brady, Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton. Newton is in the conversation because of everything else he does, namely the fact that he’s gained 366 yards on the ground (11 more than Seattle’s Russell Wilson) while rushing for six touchdowns (second in the league) and 32 first downs (tied for fifth). For comparison’s sake, Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has rushed for two touchdowns and four first downs.
“He's something to deal with now,” Coach Jay Gruden said this week. “He's playing...you can make a case for him for MVP now. He's playing like it. He's gotten their team in great positions to win at the end of games. He's making plays in key situations, goal line, third down. He's playing at a very high level.”
Gruden said sound tackling will be especially important given Newton’s athleticism and 6 foot 5, 245-pound frame. Which, of course, is easier said than done for a unit that's struggled with tackling, particularly on run plays, all season.
“If you’re a defensive player and you’re watching the tape and you’re watching the Carolina Panthers, you notice that they have a huge quarterback and he breaks tackles,” Gruden said. “It’s something that pops out of the screen at you. We’ve got to be sure tacklers. We’ve got to be fundamentally sound…wrap him up, try to get him down.”
Newton averages 1.50 yards after contact—the highest among quarterbacks—according to ESPN Stats and Info.
"He can fall down and get two yards," Gruden joked. "He's 6 foot 11."
Defensive end Ricky Jean Francois added: “It might be a tie between him and Big Ben [Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger as to] who is the hardest to get down to the ground. He is athletic. Ain’t no arm tackles fitting to take this type of dude down. You literally have to put your body on him, to make him fall. And make sure you wrap his feet up to make sure he falls. Because if he can get up out there, he’s strong enough to do it.”
Nose tackle Terrance Knighton, however, says he’s confident the Redskins' defense will be up for the challenge.
“It just gives us more target to hit,” Knighton cracked, referring to Newton’s height. “He’s always been that big. He’s always been fast. He’s always been able to run the ball. He’s always been a red zone threat. But what’s making him different now is he’s able to make all the throws, he’s maturing as a quarterback and a leader. We’ll put our best foot forward. We have a good game plan to go out there and stop him. We just have to put it to work.”