Cam Newton is the best power running quarterback in the NFL. His elite size and athletic ability has allowed him to thrive in the Panthers’ creative offensive scheme, which is designed to make the most of Newton’s abilities as a power runner.
One of the Panthers’ most popular designed runs for Newton is "QB Power", which is a slight variation of the classic "Power O" run play, which is the most popular play in all of football. Power O is basically a gap (man to man blocking) run play that utilizes a pulling guard as a lead blocker for the running back. With good blocking, Power O can be a devastating run play, even against loaded fronts (more than seven defenders in the box).
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Here’s Jonathan Stewart running the ball on a Power O run play:
The Panthers choose to run this out of shotgun, and utilize a two-tight end set. The Seahawks respond with five defenders on the line of scrimmage, and eight players in the box.
Left guard Andrew Norwell pulls, and Stewart follows him up the middle for a gain of seven yards.
QB Power is a variation of the Power O run play. Instead of having the quarterback hand the ball off, the quarterback takes the snap and immediately follows the pulling guard up the middle. This play also allows the running back to be an extra run blocker for the quarterback.
Here’s Cam Newton running QB Power for a touchdown during the Panthers’ Week 6 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals:
Newton takes the snap and immediately hits the gap. Mike Tolbert is the running back on this play, and he does a good job of sealing the edge defender.
Newton follows his lead blocking guard, and scores a 12-yard touchdown.
Here’s Cam Newton displaying his incredible strength on another QB Power run, again for a touchdown, during the Panthers' Week 17 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons:
Although he is almost stopped three yards out of the end zone, Newton uses his lower body strength and leg drive to move the pile and score.
It’s important to keep in mind that QB Power is not a draw or a read option play, as they are sometimes incorrectly referred to by announcers during the broadcast. QB Power is not a draw play because the offensive linemen are utilizing a Power O blocking scheme, and it is not a read option play either, because Newton is not reading any player. His job is to simply take the snap and charge forward.
However, the Panthers’ offensive scheme does have one very popular option play that also utilizes Power O blocking*. This is of course, the Power Read, also known as the Inverted Veer. The Inverted Veer requires Newton to read the play-side edge defender, and depending on the defender’s movement, Newton can either run QB Power, or hand the ball off to the running back on a sweep. If the defender commits to QB Power, Newton will hand the ball off on the sweep run. If the defender commits to the sweep run, Newton will keep and follow his guard up the middle on a traditional QB Power run.
*The Inverted Veer can also utilize zone blocking, but utilizing Power O blocking rules is much more effective
Here’s an example of the Panthers running the Inverted Veer against the Atlanta Falcons:
The Panthers leave the play-side defensive end unblocked. The defensive end commits to stopping the running back sweep, so Cam keeps the ball.
Cam follows pulling guard Andrew Norwell up the middle for a gain of nine yards.
The Panthers' Inverted Veer has given opposing coaches nightmares because of Newton’s talents as a between-the-tackles runner on QB Power, along with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart’s impressive lateral ability on sweep runs. If the defense repeatedly loads up the box and commits to stopping Newton on QB Power, Newton can just keep handing it off to the running back on the sweep. If the defense commits on the edges to stopping the sweep, Newton can keep it and power through the lighter defensive fronts.
Prior to the Panthers’ playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals, Cardinals’ Head Coach Bruce Arians talked about how just how difficult it is for defenses to defend the Inverted Veer, and the Panthers’ diverse run game in general:
"Cam is a big tight end running in there," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "When they start running speed sweeps sideways, they’re also running the power downhill with the quarterback. That’s a very unusual offense to run in the NFL. They’ve done it quite successfully the last month.
"It presents different problems when you’re dealing with options, speed sweeps or quarterback sweeps because then, all of a sudden, it’s a counter play this way and a power play with a quarterback running the ball and the tight end going down a seam. There are a lot of things to get ready for in a short week."
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they were unable to stop Newton and Panthers running backs, with the Panthers running for a total of 188 yards.
Earlier this offseason, Panthers’ General Manager Dave Gettleman was asked if the Panthers would continue to use Cam Newton as a runner. His response:
"(Cam’s) got to be Cam. You don’t hold back a thoroughbred, you don’t. I don’t know if you watched the Belmont. When (American) Pharoah came around that backstretch and that horse was nipping at his heels, the jockey let him go. He didn’t whip him. He’s just, ‘Go baby!’ And that’s what a thoroughbred does. You don’t change their game …You can’t do it."
The Panthers are once again expected to unleash Cam Newton as a runner in 2015. Watch out, NFL.