Rams’ defense braces for playmaking Panthers backfield 

A quarterback who can make plays with his legs is nothing new in today’s NFL. Neither is a running back capable of catching passes out of the backfield or while lined up out wide. 

What is rare, however, is an NFL team that has both.

The Carolina Panthers are one of those teams, which means starting QB Cam Newton and RB Christian McCaffrey will have complete attention of the Rams' front seven on Sunday.

“Just playmakers,” Los Angeles DT Aaron Donald said of the duo.

Since being drafted No. 1 overall by the Panthers in 2011, Newton has tallied 58 rushing touchdowns – most by a quarterback since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. His total touchdowns (240) and total yards (33,277) rank third by an NFL quarterback through his first eight seasons. 

As a rookie, Newton’s 4,051 passing yards set a then-NFL record previously held by Peyton Manning. He also became the first rookie in NFL history to eclipse 400 passing yards in his first career start. 

“Cam (Newton) has been the MVP of the league,” Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “He says he feels like a rookie now, which is kind of scary because he had some great years – even his rookie year was a heck of a year.”

McCaffrey, meanwhile, set the set Panthers single-season records for most receptions (107) and scrimmage yards (1,965) by any player last season. He also set single-season records for most receiving yards (867), receiving touchdowns (6), and receiving first downs (41) by a running back.

This was all accomplished in just his second NFL season. 

“(McCaffrey) did a lot of things outside of the backfield,” Donald said. “They’re always trying to find ways to get him the ball.”

Phillips has faced Newton once before, as the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos when they defeated the Panthers 24-10 to capture Super Bowl 50 in 2015.

The 2019 Panthers are a different team and this is a different time, so it’s tough to take anything away from that contest four years ago, according to Phillips. However, it’s fair to say their backfield looks different, and Phillips is well aware of the tests both Newton and McCaffrey will present.

“It will be a big challenge for us, but we’re looking forward to it,” Phillips said.

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