(Reuters) - One of the National Football League’s top pass rush defenses will face arguably the most effective dual-threat quarterback when the Super Bowl champion New York Giants visit Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers on Thursday.
Newton, last season’s Rookie of the Year, showed his all-round ability in Sunday’s 35-27 win over the New Orleans Saints by running for a career-high 71 yards and a touchdown while throwing for 253 yards and a touchdown.
That means there is no easy one-fix solution to dealing with Carolina’s sophomore signal-caller in a match-up of two teams who are 1-1 after securing their first wins of the 2012 season in Week Two action.
“You’d like to be able to eliminate the run game and the option game, but he’s a very accurate passer as well and when he stands in there, he obviously does a very good job and he certainly spreads the ball around, so it’s a challenge, no doubt,” Giants head coach Tom Coughlin told reporters.
What makes Newton more of a rushing threat than most NFL quarterbacks is his physicality. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner as the top U.S. collegiate player is not afraid to take a tackle.
“Certainly he’s powerful and he can run through an arm tackle, no doubt, and he’s physically strong enough to withstand the blows that come from rushing the football,” said Coughlin. “This guy is big and strong and fast.”
Newton enjoyed an outstanding first year in the NFL, passing for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns while rushing for another 706 yards and 14 scores.
But Panthers head coach Ron Rivera believes the 23-year-old quarterback has improved significantly over the past year.
“You go back and look at where he started from, and the rawness of his abilities, and you see that his base fundamentals have gotten better. His footwork, his posture, his throwing mechanics have really improved,” said Rivera.
“Secondly, what he’s learned as far as our offense is concerned ... his decision making process has gotten better, he really has taken steps forward in an overall sense.”
But the Giants visit Carolina in an upbeat mood after their impressive 41-34 comeback win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in which quarterback Eli Manning threw for a career-best 510 yards and three touchdowns after a dismal start.
“Guys stepped up,” said Manning, whose three first-half interceptions helped hand Tampa Bay a 24-13 lead.
“We’ve been good over the past couple of years at playing our best in the fourth quarter. That’s important, but we need to play better during the first three quarters.”
Another threat from the Giants is Charlotte-born receiver Hakeem Nicks, who had 10 catches for 199 yards and a touchdown against Tampa Bay and who was a childhood Panthers fans.
Rivera expects Nicks to be part of a potent offense.
“He’s coming home; it’s a national game. He’s a Pro Bowl-caliber football player, he’s an explosive guy, and I think they have a great tandem of wide receivers with Victor Cruz,” he said.
Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue