When the Atlanta Falcons lost to the Carolina Panthers 19-13 on Halloween earlier this season, Sam Darnold was playing quarterback for the Panthers.
Darnold was injured in that game, and the Panthers signed Cam Newton on November 11. Newton has had two starts with mixed results, but Falcons head coach Arthur Smith understands the threat posed by Newton.
"You could argue subjectively that nobody has been more effective running the football over a long period of time - which is rare in this league - than Cam Newton," said Smith. "If they get the lead on you, it could be a problem. He's a big, physical player, big arm; he's won the MVP in this league. He's had success, and if they get a lead on you, they can really grind it out."
Smith is particularly aware of the danger of running quarterbacks, having lost the first match up with the Panthers 19-13. In that game, Darnold was held to just 129 yards passing on 13 completions, but he ran the ball for 66 yards on eight attempts.
Newton has played in 143 games in his 11-year career. He's the second-leading rusher all-time among quarterbacks, behind only former Atlanta Falcons star Michael Vick. Vick had 6,109 yards in an identical 143 career games while Newton has 5,463.
Newton's size advantage on Vick has given him a big edge in short-yardage situations. He has used that advantage on goal-line situations to pile up more than twice as many touchdowns (73-36) as Vick.
Newton is coming off the worst passing game of his career. He was 5 of 21 passing including two interceptions two weeks ago against the Dolphins. His 5.8 quarterback rating was a career-low.
Newton has had the bye week to work off some of the rust he showed in the abysmal outing against the Dolphins two weeks ago.
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He might not be the 2015 MVP version of Cam Newton, but the Falcons can't count on Newton to be as bad as he was against the Dolphins. Newton is still a dangerous quarterback, and if the Falcons fall behind and let Newton work the clock, as Smith said, "It could be a problem."