Coach Ron Rivera prepares to face former QB Cam Newton
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina
Ron Rivera knew that at some point he would have to prepare a game plan to face his former quarterback and longtime friend Cam Newton.
This time is there.
Newton is set to start Sunday when the Panthers (5-5) host the Washington football team (3-6) in a game that pits a quarterback against his former nine-season coach in Carolina.
Together, Newton and Rivera helped the Panthers reach the Super Bowl in the 2015 season and win three division titles.
Rivera was sacked at the end of the 2019 season and Newton was sacked the following offseason by a new Panthers scheme.
But Newton joined the Panthers last week on a one-year contract after Carolina quarterback’s situation reached the point of desperation after struggling starter Sam Darnold injured his shoulder for 4 at 6 weeks.
The return of the 32-year-old QB could not have gone better as he provided an instant jerk to the attack, scoring touchdowns the first two times he touched the ball coming off the bench during the Carolina’s 34-10 road victory last. week against the Arizona Cardinals. He single-handedly rejuvenated a team that had lost five of their previous six games.
Rivera is making his return to Charlotte, where he was a popular figure for most of his tenure.
“It’s going to be a hell of a game,” said Rivera.
Rivera said the Panthers added Newton was a “bold move” given the playmakers the team already have on offense, including Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore and Robby Anderson.
“They have talent there,” Rivera said.
Newton crammed in to learn offense after joining the squad in practice last Friday. He was 10 to 15 games forfeited before the game in Arizona, but Panthers coach Matt Rhule is hoping Newton can grab enough offense to start this week against PJ Walker.
Rhule said it’s not so much about learning Newton’s playbook, but more about learning the game plan, including protections in the running and passing game.
“We all understand that Cam is like a force of nature in the things he brings to the pitch,” Rhule said. “But I don’t want that to be all people achieve. I haven’t known him until recently. What I see is a real professional who wants to win and devotes time to it.
Rivera added: “I think it’s an opportunity for him to come home, to pick up where he started. It’s a good deal.”
Things to watch out for when Washington visits Carolina.
Rivera isn’t the only one who has ties to Carolina.
Washington starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke – along with his replacement Kyle Allen – previously played for the Panthers before moving to Washington.
“I think he’s playing a lot more confidently,” Rivera said of Heinicke. “I think his decision making is improving, obviously, and I think with him it’s just about getting reps and opportunities. I think he’s improved a lot and we see it. . “
In addition, executive vice president of Washington football and players staff Marty Hurney has held two positions as Carolina general manager.
Terry McLaurin received a big blow from Tampa Bay safety Jordan Whitehead for a third try at the end of Washington’s surprise win last week and was promptly to his feet. The team’s top receiver with 632 yards and four touchdowns is determined to play that way and lead by example.
“I’m never afraid to go in the middle and put my nose in there to catch the ball, block and things like that because being a leader and the type of player that I am, I think that’s is extremely important, ”McLaurin said.
“I pray before every game just for health and strength. Gains, losses, production – things like that – those are bonuses to me. As long as I come out of the game healthy, I think that’s a blessing in itself.
Washington will be starved of defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young for the remainder of the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee. Also missing is Montez Sweat, who has a broken jaw.
Their absences mean more responsibility for young players like James Smith-Williams and rookie Shaka Tokey. Defensive tackle Daron Payne said the key is “to build that chemistry and learn to rush with young people and put them on the same page as us.” “
Leading the charge are former Payne teammate in Alabama and his other first-round pick Jonathan Allen, who walks around Washington with six sacks.
THE KEYS OF McCAFFREY
Christian McCaffrey played an increased role last week in his second comeback from a hamstring injury for Carolina and his playing time is expected to increase this week.
McCaffrey played 59% of the team’s plays and managed to gain 161 yards in scrum. His versatility as a receiver presents issues for a Washington defense that has struggled to defend running backers coming out of the backfield and ranks 30th overall against the pass. McCaffrey has 11 100-yard receiving games, the most running backs in NFL history.
REDDICK A FORCE
Haason Reddick has been a force in the Panthers outside linebacker this season, with 9 1/2 sacks. Reddick has 17 sacks in his last 14 games, dating back to last season with Arizona.
Washington has allowed 20 sacks this season.
AP Sports writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.