Preseason Playbook - Stopping Cam Newton

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

"Real" football is mere days away. Sure, the score doesn't matter,, and we're not likely to see a whole lot of the starters. But with a head coach who knows the Bears D better than most, the Panthers will pose the perfect test for the Bears' new middle linebackers.

In a strange irony, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera knows the Lovie Smith brand of Bears defense better than new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. This makes the Panthers a perfect preseason match-up to test out the product Tucker, Trestman, and Emery are putting on the field. Ron Rivera, after all, would probably like nothing more than to finally notch a win against the team he used to both play and coach for - even if the win doesn't count for anything.

The Panthers offense runs through the arm - and feet - of QB Cam Newton. In his prime, Brian Urlacher was perhaps the best linebacker in the NFL when matched up against a mobile QB. That role now falls to linebackers D.J. Williams and Jon Bostic, and with Williams now listed as "week to week" with a calf injury, we are liable to get a very good look at how well Bostic can keep Newton contained.

As for how the Bears did containing Newton last season, it was a tale of great success and notable failures. The first rule of containing a mobile QB is to play fundamentally sound defense with your front four, something the Bears did well most of the time. Witness the below play, however. It's a basic four-man rush, where each defensive linesman is supposed to push his way straight towards the QB and crush the pocket around him. DT Stephen Paea, however, tries to put a move on his man, a move that ends up giving the guard a chance to push Paea out of the play. The second the running lane opens, Cam Newton is off to the races. A few cuts later, and Newton ended up sending a forward fumble into the end zone that was recovered by a Panther. Touchdown Carolina.

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There's one other thing worthy of note here that comes at the second pause in the video. It is definitely Paea's fault that Newton is able to break out of the pocket, but Urlacher was in charge of dealing with Newton if he did get free. Urlacher is lured out of midfield by a crossing route, true, but he simply didn't have enough horses to chase the QB down. If Newton does get free up the middle, it'll be interesting to see if Bostic's athleticism is enough to compensate for his lack of NFL experience.

Bostic will also be on the spot in a designed QB run. In a run out of a standard pro set - RB, FB, TE, 2WR - the numbers game evens out. The offfense sends its five linesmen, tight end, and fullback to block the four defensive linesmen and three linebackers, and the team that executes better ends up ahead. Have the quarterback keep the ball himself, however, and now you've got one more blocker to clear the way.

That's precisely what the Panthers did on this third and short. The Bears called the perfect defense, bringing down Chris Conte to give the defense a look more like the 46 than the Tampa 2. But even with an eighth man to defend the run, the Bears weren't able to hold Newton. Watch what the Panthers' line is able to do. First, the left tackle helps open the edge of the line by doubling up Julius Peppers and pushing him inside. The right guard, who pulls to the point of attack, opens that running lane even wider, getting squared up to an incoming Urlacher just in time. With #54 taken care of, Cam gets a free path to the first down line.

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Perhaps the greatest flaw in Urlacher's game was his troubles with shedding blocks like this one, a flaw that was magnified as he lost acceleration later in his career. Can Jon Bostic keep himself in more plays than #54? Speed will help, but speed only helps when you know where to be. That kind of football wisdom only develops through time and study, and week one of the preseason is as good a time as any to start putting that time in.

I'm quite glad that Bostic's first "real" NFL game will allow him to hone the QB-hunting skills he first sharpened in the SEC. While I don't expect Newton will be doing a lot of running in the preseason, I'm sure the Bears will put in some preparation to be ready if he does. I hope that this preseason prep time will pay defensive dividends later in the season, when the Bears face the likes of a Robert Griffin III down the road. If Bostic has to step up, better he starts now by stepping right into the path of Cam Newton.

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