As the Eagles prepare to face quarterback Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers on Monday night, linebacker Casey Matthews is already all too familiar with the former No. 1 overall pick.
Newton led his Auburn Tigers to the 2011 BCS National Championship at the expense of Matthews' Oregon Ducks. Auburn won the game 22-19 on a short field goal as time expired.
"I thought we had it as soon as we tied it in the fourth," Matthews said. "For containing Cam Newton, I thought we did a pretty good job. They had 22 points which was well below their season average. Their defense also did a good job of holding Oregon's offense. You think you have him wrapped up or you think you have him contained and all of a sudden he'll break free. Since he's athletic and can run, he has the ability to extend plays. It's something you really have to hone in on. Get your hands on a receiver so they are not open."
Newton threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another 64 yards in that game. The 6-5, 245-pound Newton won the Heisman Trophy that year with his ability to keep plays alive with his legs and his cannon for an arm. For Matthews, it was one thing to watch him on film leading up to that game, but he learned first-hand how tough it was to take down Newton on a second quarter play. Facing a third-and-2, the Tigers called a QB power which Matthews diagnosed perfectly. He penetrated the offensive line and wrapped up Newton at the line of scrimmage. However, Newton simply fell forward for a 3-yard gain.
"I don't know if that's him being so tall or what, but that's when I knew he had a lot of power," Newton said. "He's pretty strong. He can lower the shoulder. He's got some strength."
Newton was the top pick of the 2011 NFL Draft and had a rookie season for the ages leading Carolina to a 6-10 record. Newton is the only player in NFL history to throw for at least 6,000 yards, 25 touchdowns and rush for at least 15 touchdowns in his first two seasons. In a lot of ways, Newton's numbers are similar this season, but the Panthers are just 2-8 despite expectations of a playoff berth. He's completed 57 percent of his pass attempts for 2,395 yards with nine touchdowns against 10 interceptions for a 79 passer rating. He also has 394 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
"It's still the same Cam Newton. He's what makes their offense run. I think if you shut him down, you shut their offense down," Matthews said. "He's not having the year he wanted to so far this year, but he's still capable of breaking a game open."
At least the Eagles will be prepared for Newton thanks to last week's matchup with Washington. The Panthers run some of the same read-option plays that the Redskins run with Robert Griffin III.
"When it comes to the read option, everyone has to trust that the other person is going to get their job done," Matthews said.
That was an issue against the Redskins. If someone is responsible for the quarterback and he breaks for the run play, then the whole defense will be out of alignment.
"Everyone is going to try and be that guy to make the big play. That sometimes will get you in trouble," Matthews said. "It's shown up these past couple weeks. As soon as you try to do someone else's job or say if you have a gap and he hasn't hit that gap all game then you start going where the ball usually hits then he cuts in there, you've seen that all season.
"You've got to handle your assignment and go get the ball after that."
Discipline will be key against the Panthers. If the Eagles are going to end their six-game losing streak, it would be nice to do it in front of a national audience.
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