ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** In reaching the Super Bowl, the Broncos have gone through the wringer in terms of defeating some of the most challenging quarterbacks the NFL has to offer.
The Broncos began the playoffs with Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, who boasted the league's top mark in passing yards per game. A week after the Broncos took down Pittsburgh, Denver hosted the Patriots and Tom Brady, who threw 36 touchdowns—a league-leading figure—against just seven interceptions.
And now they have the delight of facing the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL, who doesn't just have the ability to torch defenses with his arm. Newton, who is expected to receive NFL MVP honors in a week, averaged 239.8 passing yards per game with 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He added 636 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
The Broncos continue their practice preparation for the Panthers in Super Bowl 50. (photos by Ben Swanson)
"You go from Roethlisberger to Tom Brady and think it won't get any tougher and then now you're going against Cam Newton," Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips said with a grin. "They asked me if I'd seen a quarterback like Cam Newton, and there isn't one like him. So, I haven't seen one like him. None of us have. [He has] tremendous talent, he's put it all together and I'm sure he's going to be the MVP of the league this year, so [it's] another big challenge for us."
To prepare for that challenge, the coaches have told the scout-team quarterbacks where the vulnerabilities in specific defenses are during practice and told them to attack those weaknesses. That process, Phillips said, will get the Broncos ready for each way Newton does much of his damage.
"We set it up for each defense we have," Phillips said. "We tell them 'On this defense, it might be a little vulnerable to him running with the ball,' and we'll tell [the quarterback] to run around with the ball to make sure everybody's watching the quarterback. We've got some defenses where we don't feel like he can run but he's going to have to throw it, so we make him throw it to certain receivers. So that's the process you do as far as getting ready for a guy like that."
With his size, speed, vision and throwing ability, it's hard to find a comparison for all that Newton brings.
From the standpoint of his 245-pound frame, pocket presence and arm strength, Newton could resemble Roethlisberger, but no quarterback sees the designed quarterback runs like Newton does.
"The drop-back stuff and being able to throw the ball the way he can throw the ball is similar, but him being able to run—and his called runs, they're options and those kinds of things," Phillips said. "It's not just a quarterback going back and running with the football. A lot of their offense is him being able to run the football and they call plays that he's going to run the ball. Most teams don't do that. They can't afford to lose their quarterback."
Carolina, of course, can't afford to lose its MVP candidate, either, but Newton is built like a linebacker or a tight end. He's able to carry the ball consistently without fear of injury or turnovers.
"He is the top-notch drop-back quarterback, but he can run with it better than the rest of them, so he's kind of a combination of how Michael Vick was, but he's the leading passer in the league," Phillips said.
That ability to make something out of nothing on runs has helped Newton since he came into the league and well before, but what really drove this recent development to become one of the league's most dynamic players is eschewing that except as a last resort, Phillips added.
"Cam actually tries to stay in the pocket more overall," Phillips said. "You say he runs with it, and he does if there's a lot of pressure, he'll run with it out of the pocket on drop-backs, but he's [done] more called run plays that he makes yards on. He can, obviously, get out of the pocket and make a big play, but he tries to throw it in the pocket and that's what's made him a better quarterback all along."