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Coach singing Newton's praises

Mid-season tweaks paying off for Cats

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Coach Ron Rivera said despite some growing pains he believes Cam Newton is improving and is "right where you want a second-year quarterback to be."

Newton's overall record as an NFL starter is just 9-18 and he hasn't come close this year to matching the numbers he put up as a rookie, leaving Rivera to answer repeated questions about a possible sophomore slump.

Still, Rivera said Carolina's 30-22 victory Monday night over Philadelphia only reaffirms his belief Newton is making steady strides. Newton threw for 306 yards and had four touchdowns -- two passing and two rushing -- in the victory.

The Panthers expected more of those types of performances this season from Newton, last year's AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. But sometimes it takes time for young quarterbacks to learn and develop, Rivera said.

"People are throwing different things at him now," Rivera said. "They're trying to throw things that have worked against him at him, and he's learning those things and understanding them."

Rivera said the coaching staff's decision to "take things off his plate" midway through the season has been instrumental in Newton's increased production in recent weeks.

The Panthers added several new twists in the playbook during the off-season figuring opposing defences would be better prepared to stop Newton after getting months to study him on tape.

But midway through the season, with Newton struggling to produce, Rivera and his staff decided to scale back the playbook and simplify a few things for him.

"I think the thing is we put a lot on his plate earlier in the year," Rivera said. "We've taken some of it back and he has reacted to that very well now, and I think we are starting to find the balance that we need with him. The last few weeks he has been outstanding and he has given us chances to win, and this is the first time that we as a team took advantage of it."

In the past four games Newton has thrown for six touchdown passes and only two interceptions. In the previous seven games he had five TDs and eight picks. He has six rushing TDs this season, three of those in the past four weeks.

One of the things the Panthers did to help Newton was reduce the number of zone read option plays -- ones where Newton has to make a split-second decision on whether to run or handoff.

Instead the Panthers have gone to more traditional running plays and tried to give more carries to running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.

"We are really trying to balance it out and spread it among the other players," Rivera said. "He has really responded very well to those things and it is funny because he did not want us to take anything off, he wanted more, and I think we had to give him an opportunity to take a breath once in a while."

Rivera said Newton has responded well.

"These last few weeks he has played like the guy that we believe he can become," Rivera said.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 28, 2012 C6

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