Newton, Panthers' offense hitting stride under Turner
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Concerns over how Cam Newton might adjust to Norv Turner's offense have ceased.
The worries been replaced by talk of Newton being an MVP candidate again.
Newton is thriving in his first season under the 66-year-old offensive coordinator. The Panthers are 5-2 and picking up a head of steam on offense entering Sunday's home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The eight-year quarterback combined for 271 yards and three touchdowns against the NFL's top-ranked defense over the weekend as the Panthers dominated the Baltimore Ravens 36-21. Turner used all of his weapons — and a variety of misdirection plays — to keep Ravens defenders guessing instead of attacking.
Baltimore, which had 11 sacks against the Titans earlier this season, never got to Newton, and Carolina scored on four straight possessions to build a 24-7 halftime lead.
Afterward, Ravens coach John Harbaugh could only tip his hat to Turner.
"He did a great job scheming us up, keeping us off balance," Harbaugh said. "He forced us to put certain personnel groups out there and then he had counters for it. He did a tremendous job."
The misdirection plays left the Ravens befuddled at times, as Newton pitched out to wide receivers, used fake handoffs to running back Christian McCaffrey to set up the passing game and a naked bootleg to score a walk-in touchdown.
Asked why defending Carolina's misdirection offense was so difficult, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith held up one hand and said, "Look at my hand. Now if I smack you with this (other hand), you won't see it coming. That's how it works."
A big reason the Panthers were smacking the Ravens was the emergence of rookie wide receiver D.J. Moore, the team's speedy first-round draft pick.
The Maryland product compiled 129 yards of offense in the first 2 ½ quarters, the beneficiary of the Ravens focusing their attention on stopping other playmakers like McCaffrey, tight end Greg Olsen, wide receivers Devin Funchess and Curtis Samuel and former 1,000-yard rusher C.J. Anderson.
Newton spread the ball around, targeting eight different receivers, leaving the Ravens unable to focus on stopping one player.
"That's huge for us, because when you do that, it's like, 'OK, who are you guys going to try to lock down?'" Rivera said. "... This week (Moore) had a lot of success, and maybe next week he won't because they'll be trying to double up on him, and that may leave somebody else open."
The Panthers are getting exactly what Rivera was hoping for when he made the decision to jettison long-time offensive coordinator Mike Shula this past offseason in favor of Turner, whom he coached under in San Diego.
"I understood what offensively we could become," Rivera said. "We had a chance to follow coach in Minnesota and how he worked with Teddy Bridgewater, who has a lot of the similar traits as Cam. So that was going to be an easy transition for us."
Turner's son, Scott, returned to the team as the quarterbacks coach, too.
He'd designed many of the plays back in 2001 when Newton joined Carolina as the No. 1 overall pick and was thrust in the mix right away.
The biggest difference now is how many playmakers Newton has to work with, and that the QB has only been sacked five times in the last five games.
"We have three or four guys who are really fast on the offensive side," Rivera said. "It is the most speed we've had and because of that you see things opening up."
Newton's numbers through seven games are impressive.
He's completing a career-high 66.4 percent of his passes and has 17 combined touchdowns with four interceptions. He's on pace to be sacked a career-low 21 times, largely because he's getting the ball out of his hands quicker than ever in Turner's offense.
Rivera said it's too say if Newton is playing as well as he did in 2015 when he combined for 45 touchdowns and won league MVP honors while helping the Panthers to the Super Bowl.
"The proof will be in the pudding when we get to the end of the year," Rivera said. "We'll see. He is playing well and I think we are playing well as a unit."
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