When a play breaks down against the Carolina Panthers, the Raiders won’t have Brady Quinn to bail them out this time.
No, the Raiders know they’re in for a stern test Sunday when they get their first look at second-year quarterback Cam Newton, one of the numerous dynamic quarterbacks that entered the NFL the past two seasons.
Newton struggled early this season on the heels of a transcendent rookie season in which he passed for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 706 yards and 14 touchdowns.
But Newton of late is looking more and more like the player many expected to see in his second season. He has 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in his past five games, as well as 293 yards and three touchdowns rushing.
Raiders coach Dennis Allen said game-planning for Newton is a handful.
“He creates a lot of other issues that you have to worry about,” Allen said. “You have to worry about him in the passing game. just scrambling around and keeping the play alive. Obviously, they use him in a lot of different ways in the running game also. He presents some unique challenges. He’s obviously a tremendous talent.”
Newton, 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds, is a threat to run at any time. For instance, he rambled for 72 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons a couple of games ago on a designed play.
Even so, Raiders defensive backs can’t leave their assignments too early if Newton shows run, for rish of Newton pulling up and throwing the ball over the top.
“You don’t come off,” Huff said. “When he’s scrambling around, you really have no idea. Especially, our back will be turned, so you gotta cover until you think it’s two, three seconds later.”
Raiders middle linebacker Omar Gaither spent one season with the Panthers and went up against Newton in practice every day. He said defenders have to be wary of Newton to run at any time.
“He’s big and fast,” Gaither said. “If he were playing a different position it would probably be defensive end. And a guy who can run. He has every tool you need in a quarterback, and he can beat you with his feet. So you basically need to keep him in front and contain him on the edges. You see the highlights every week of him getting a 60-yard scamper. Those are the kind of things that kill your defense. You just have to contain him.”
Raiders outside linebacker Philip Wheeler played against Newton last season, when Wheeler was with the Colts. He said the key is swarming Newton and getting as many bodies on him as possible.
“It’s just very important to stay disciplined in your responsibilities,” Wheeler said.
— Sebastian Janikowski won the fan portion of the voting for the Pro Bowl. He’s one-third of the way to his second straight Pro Bowl selection.
The man standing in his way is Phil Dawson, the kicker who spent 1998 in the Raiders training camp after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Texas.
Dawson has converted 26 of 27 field-goal attempts this season. Janikowski is 29 of 32, with his misses coming from 51, 61 and 64 yards.
Coaches and players each get one-third of the voting, too. Selections will be announced Wednesday at 4 p.m. on NFL Network.
— The Raiders are last in the league in rushing touchdowns this season, with three.
To put that in perspective, only three teams since the merger in 1970 had fewer in a season. And Buccaneers rookie running back Doug Martin had four rushing touchdowns against the Raiders in their game Nov. 4.
Worse, the Raiders had 16 rushing touchdowns last season and 19 in 2010. Hue Jackson called plays during both seasons. Also, five times during Jackson’s two seasons, the Raiders had at least three rushing touchdowns in a game.
— Second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor will be used on some third-down and red-zone plays against the Panthers so that the Raiders “can create a different look the defense to contend with” and “try to use some of his athletic ability.”
Pryor played one series last Sunday against the Chiefs. The series consisted of two hand-offs and an incomplete pass from Pryor to wide receiver Darrius Hewyard-Bey.
Pryor has spent the better part of his two NFL seasons biding his time, learning from Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart and working on his accuracy, timing, mechanics and footwork.
Now he’s ready to take his game for a test drive, which means for more than three plays. Until that happens, Pryor said he doesn’t want to hear about any comparisons to Newton, Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick.
“When it’s time for me, and I really get a lot of reps and get comfortable, I’ll have success,” Pryor said. “I really, truly believe that. Right now I’m just waiting. Right now I don’t want to compare myself to Kaepernick or Cam or any of those guys because them guys and Griffin have proved it. I haven’t proved anything.
“I can’t really say I’d be like them. I don’t know what I’m going to be like because I haven’t even played yet. I can tell from practice and certain plays that they run and certain plays that I run, I could tell I can do that in practice. It’s not when people are watching, so I can’t really compare myself to them.”
Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp is watching at practice, and he said he likes what he sees from Pryor these days.
“I’ve definitely seen the progress during practice on his mechanics, the rhythm of his throws and the consistency of his footwork,” Knapp said. “He has taken to coaching very well. (Quarterbacks coach) John DeFilippo should get a lot of credit because he has spent a lot of time with him, as far as working on the individual part of the game.”
Pryor said he is satisfied with the improvements he has made since training camp, especially his accuracy and footwork. Getting a taste of what it’s like in a regular-season game gave him added confidence.
“I wasn’t really nervous because I studied them so much it was like second nature when I got to the line,” Pryor said. “Obviously, there’s a tiny bit of nerves. Obviously, I would have liked to play a little more and had a couple of different plays I’d really want to use, but I got an opportunity to get on the field and that’s a step from where I was. I can’t really complain. I’m just grateful my coaches let me get on the field.”
— Stat of the day: On passes longer than 20 yards downfield, Palmer is 10 of 50 (20 percent) for 432 yards, with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He went 16 of 45 (35.6 percent) for 618 yards, with six touchdowns and two interceptions last season.
— Defensive tackle Richard Seymour has missed the past six games with a hamstring injury. He hasn’t practiced yet this week, so it’s likely that he is headed for a seventh straight missed game.
Therefore, Allen said, it’s possible that the Raiders will just shut down Seymour and place him on the injured-reserve list.
— Allen and Palmer raved about Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly on Wednesday. Today, it was Knapp’s turn to sing the rookie’s praises.
“When I see a rookie linebacker tackle Tony Gonzalez pretty handily, then get up and not back down, because Tony gets up and tries to shrug him off, and he gets right back in it, and you see it happen two or three more times in the game, you know the guy’s got a little something to him,” Knapp said of Kuechly. “So it does show up on tape. He’s always around the ball. He’s fast to react and he has pretty good instincts, so that does show up on tape.”
Isolate on Kuechly during Sunday’s game. Trust me, it’s worth your investment if you want to see how the middle linebacker position should be played and what you have missed out of Rolando McClain the past three seasons.
Then, factor in that both were selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft — McClain in 2010, Kuechly in April — both won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top collegiate linebacker and you will get a sense for how important it is that a team have a solid scouting department.
Several people cautioned Al Davis about using a first-round pick on McClain. A few others were enamored with McClain. The latter persuaded Davis to draft McClain.
— Heyward-Bey was held without a catch against the Chiefs, marking the second time in four games that he didn’t catch any passes and the third time in 14 games this season.
Knapp said Heyward-Bey’s health is fine and that that’s just how it works out from time to time.
“It’s not by design,” Knapp said. “It’s just the way things have played out. Kind of the same thing happened with Denarius (Moore) for a couple of games. Even, you could say the same thing is true for Brandon (Myers); it’s sometimes the way the game plays out. It’s not by design, but it’s just the ball has been delivered other places because of coverage and/or progressions, but it’s not by game plan.”