New­ton’s ac­cu­racy im­prov­ing for Panthers

The Record (Troy, NY) - - SPORTS - By Steve Reed

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. » Cam New­ton is locked in and on tar­get.

Carolina’s quar­ter­back is on a mini-tear en­ter­ing a Thursday night show­down against the Ea­gles, com­plet­ing 77.4 per­cent of his passes over the last two games for 671 yards with six touch­downs. That’s well above New­ton’s ca­reer com­ple­tion per­cent­age of 58.9 per­cent and last sea­son’s ca­reer low of 52.9 per­cent.

New­ton’s new­found ac­cu­racy has the Panthers (4-1) tied for the best record in the NFC with the Ea­gles and Pack­ers. Sud­denly, ques­tions about New­ton’s abil­ity to re­cover from shoul­der surgery have turned to ques­tions about com­pet­ing for league MVP hon­ors again.

New­ton shrugged his shoul­ders and of­fered no ex­pla­na­tion for his ca­reer­high com­ple­tion per­cent­age this year.

But clearly one of the rea­sons is the ad­di­tion of run­ning back Chris­tian McCaffrey, who has given the sev­enth-year QB a valu­able check-down op­tion on passes. The rookie from Stan­ford leads the Panthers with 27 re­cep­tions.

“He’s an ex­cep­tional foot­ball player who has found his role on this team and is try­ing to find ways to ex­pand his role,” New­ton said of McCaffrey. “A guy like that, he’s so easy to throw to.”

The Panthers are throw­ing more short and intermediate routes than in the past, de­signed in part to com­pen­sate for New­ton com­ing off ro­ta­tor cuff surgery. He missed most of train­ing camp and the Panthers didn’t want to rush him back by ask­ing him to throw a bunch of deep balls. New­ton’s arm strength im­prov­ing and he’s is show­ing no signs of sore­ness, al­though coach Ron Rivera still lim­its his reps in prac­tice.

“There’s cer­tain throws that he’s mak­ing again. That’s a huge plus,” Rivera said. “I think last week was in­dica­tive of that. I think as he gets stronger and stronger, we can do some more things we want to do.”

McCaffrey is com­mand­ing so much at­ten­tion from de­fenses that it’s free­ing up oth­ers to make plays. Devin Funchess has three TD catches in the last two games and Greg Olsen fillin Ed Dick­son caught five passes for 175 yards last week against Detroit.

CON­TROL THE CLOCK

The Ea­gles lead the NFL in time of pos­ses­sion with an av­er­age of 35:32 thanks to a strong run­ning game and best third-down of­fense in the league. Led by LeGar­rette Blount’s bruis­ing run­ning, Philadelphia is ranked fifth in rush­ing. The Ea­gles are first in third-down con­ver­sions at 53.4 per­cent, al­low­ing them to keep drives going and keep the ball away from op­po­nents. “I think it’s im­por­tant to es­tab­lish the run to start,” coach Doug Ped­er­son said. “It just helps our of­fense, helps our of­fen­sive line set­tle into games. And when you see your de­fense, the three-and-outs that they have and stop­ping the run, it can frus­trate an op­po­nent.”

GOING DEEP

Car­son Wentz and his new re­ceivers couldn’t con­nect on long throws un­til Tor­rey Smith and Nel­son Agholor made big plays against the Car­di­nals. Wentz hit Smith in stride for a 59-yard TD and lofted a per­fect pass that Agholor caught over his shoul­der for a 72-yard TD. “Car­son is known to chuck it,” Agholor said. “He’s going to chuck it and you have to get un­der it. We have fun with it. The deep ball is a great way to keep de­fenses hon­est and to help guys all around the foot­ball field, whether it’s your tight ends or crossers, get open.”

PEP­PERS CLOSES IN

Panthers de­fen­sive end Julius Pep­pers needs one sack to be­come the fifth player in NFL his­tory to reach 150 for his ca­reer. He would join Bruce Smith, Reg­gie White, Kevin Greene and Chris Dole­man on that list. Pep­pers has been ex­tremely valu­able in a ro­ta­tional role, get­ting 5 ½ sacks in five games. The Panthers have 17 sacks, tied for third in the league.

DICK­SON EMERGES

Dick­son has been the sec­ond op­tion at tight end for the past three sea­sons with the Panthers, but is be­ing leaned on more with Olsen on in­jured re­serve with a foot in­jury. The Panthers are hop­ing Olsen will be back later this sea­son, but in the mean­time Dick­son is step­ping up. After Dick­son had 175 yards re­ceiv­ing, New­ton teased Olsen by say­ing the veteran tight end is get­ting ea­ger to get back on the field.

PAUL SAN­CYA — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Carolina Panthers quar­ter­back Cam New­ton (1) cel­e­brates a Kelvin Ben­jamin touch­down re­cep­tion dur­ing an NFL foot­ball game against the Detroit Lions Sun­day in Detroit.

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