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Catch Cam if you can: Giants have a tall order bringing down Panthers' running QB

Cam Newton does what he does best, scrambling

Cam Newton does what he does best, scrambling away from defenders.  Credit: AP/Jason E. Miczek

The problem with facing Cam Newton as a runner is that a defense can do everything correctly, have everyone positioned perfectly and ready to make a play, and it may not matter.

“He’s a very physical, big guy who at times in the zone option scheme will take the matchup,” Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher said on Thursday. “You will be in the right spot, you’ll have the guy that’s supposed to be on the quarterback on the quarterback, and he will take the matchup.”

Of course, for the Giants, getting to those ideal placements on the field has been something of a challenge this season. In each of the first four games they have been beaten for big runs by an opposing quarterback.

It wasn’t always in a read-option situation; Deshaun Watson did most of his ground damage on scrambles. It wasn’t even always the starting quarterback; the Saints a week ago installed an entire package for backup Taysom Hill to take advantage of this Giants weakness.

However the yardage has come, it’s come a lot. The Giants have allowed 151 yards on 20 carries by opposing quarterbacks. That’s about 30 percent of the total rushing yards they have allowed (504) on fewer than 20 percent of the total carries (104). Six of the 13 runs of at least 10 yards against the Giants have come from quarterbacks.

And now they face the most dangerous one of them all in the 6-5, 245-pound Newton.

The Panthers don’t just dabble in having their quarterback run, it’s a primary weapon in their offense. For the Giants, it’s a primary focus to try to stop.

“That’s the first thing you’re looking at each and every week,” Bettcher said of the opposing run offense.

This week, that means Newton.

“It’s part of what they do,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said of the Panthers. “These guys, to date, have featured it more than the teams that we’ve played. It’s just part of what they do. It’s just taking advantage of the skill set of Cam.”

So how, exactly, do the Giants approach him?

“Like anybody else, you just tackle him,” safety Landon Collins said. “Other than that, when he’s in the backfield and in the tackle box, you still got to treat him like a quarterback. When he’s outside the tackle box, you just tackle him, honestly. Go after his legs. Every running back goes down when they can’t run with their legs.”

Running back? No, that was not a slip of the tongue. That the Giants are thinking about Newton as a running back tells you exactly how serious they take him as a threat to wreck their day on the ground.

Notes & quotes: LB Olivier Vernon (ankle) was limited in practice on Thursday and CB Eli Apple (groin) was a full participant. While there has been no official declaration, the Giants likely will have both players on the field Sunday. Vernon said to play, he has to “prove to myself” he is ready, “but then also showing them that I’m capable of making certain plays, that you don’t want to be a liability out there. It’s just basically showing the coaches you’re capable of making the cuts when you have to or inside stunts and stuff like that.” . . . WR Sterling Shepard was a full participant in practice after missing Wednesday’s workout after having a cyst removed from his back. Shurmur said Shepard “absolutely” will play Sunday.

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