Panthers winning with ball control, defense

The Carolina Panthers prided themselves the last two seasons on

being a ”big chunk offense,” able to gobble up big yards on

downfield passes.

Those days are gone.

Carolina (6-3) has won five straight games behind an entirely

different method: controlling the ball and relying on a dominant


A year ago, the Panthers had 75 plays of 20 yards or more,

second most in the NFL. Halfway through this season they have just

25, tied for last in the league with Arizona.

Offensive coordinator Mike Shula said he didn’t necessarily plan

it that way.

”It’s every offense’s goal to be explosive and to have huge

plays each and every week,” Shula said. ”We’re close on some.

They don’t always show up. We’re an offense, so it everyone has to

be clicking.

”But guys have been resilient. If it’s not there, it’s guys

saying, `Hey, we’re going to find a way.’ We haven’t had a lot of

explosive runs, but we’ve had efficient runs.”

Part of the issue is teams have taken away the deep routes,

forcing Cam Newton to think more and go to his second and third

reads. That’s an area where Shula said Newton has made major

strides this season.

Shula wouldn’t say Newton is a better game manager – he dislikes

that term – but said he’s done a better job going through his

progressions and checking down when nothing is available


Shula and the Panthers have done a better job using their

talented trio of running backs: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart

and Mike Tolbert.

And Newton has warmed to the idea that being patient and taking

what the defense is giving him can be pretty effective.

”To win in this league consistently you have to have the big

play threat, which we do have, but for longevity you have to have

methodical drives,” said Newton, now in his third seasons. ”That

is what we have more times than not. … If we have that mentality,

especially with our defense playing lights out, we can be scary at


Newton doesn’t care if it’s a quick strike or a long drive. The

2011 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year said he’ll trade big stats for

big wins any day of the week.

”I have no preference,” Newton said with a smile. ”As long we

are going forward and not backward. That has been the key to our


Carolina’s defense, which has allowed the second-fewest points

and second-fewest yards in the league, has played a big role in the

team holding nearly a nine-minute advantage per game in time of


The Panthers have been so good – and so reliable – that they

haven’t put Newton in position very often where he’s forced to


The Panthers have only trailed once at halftime this season, so

they’ve never been out of a game.

”We just have to keep getting first downs and have that

first-down mentality,” Newton said. ”You get enough first downs

sooner or later you are going to get into the colorful rectangular

at end of the field.”

That blueprint isn’t a huge surprise considering their head


Ron Rivera played linebacker for the 1985 Super Bowl champion

Chicago Bears, a team that won the Super Bowl and finished first in

the NFL in rushing offense, tops in the league on defense in points

allowed, yards allowed and turnovers, according to STATS.

The Panthers haven’t put up numbers quite on par with the `85

Bears, but they’ve shown they’re pretty solid.

Newton said he still feels like Carolina’s 20th-ranked offense

has plenty of room to improve to get on par with the defense.

He wasn’t exactly thrilled with the unit’s performance after a

10-9 win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers, and said the Panthers

need put up more points this Monday night against Tom Brady and New


”We know we’re not going to be able to score 10 points a game

and win, I don’t care what defense you have out there,” Newton


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