X-FACTOR: Carolina quarterback Cam Newton

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is off to a grand start for the Panthers.

The former Westlake High star and 2011 Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn has passed for 667 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions while rushing for 106 yards and two touchdowns in the Panthers’ four wins.

He will be the X-factor when the Panthers host the Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan lectured the defense about the five critical factors to winning the game, which were: points, takeaways, red-zone scoring, third-down efficiency and passer rating.

  • Carolina averages 24.3 points per game (12th in the NFL).
  • The Panthers are plus-6 in takeaways (eighth).
  • Red-zone scoring (touchdowns) 61.1 percent (10th).
  • Third-down efficiency (39 of 86) 45 percent (fourth).
  • Cam Newton's passer rating is 97.6 (eighth among starters).

“They are doing really well,” Nolan said. “We’ve got our hands full.”

The Panthers also average 130 yards rushing per game, which ranks eighth in the league, and they lead the league in time-of-possession average at 33:40 minutes.

Last season, Newton did some damage in both games rushing.

“You have to be prepared because it only takes one to go to the house,” Nolan said. “As we experienced last year, Cam in both games, had explosive runs, one for 70 something yards and a touchdown. The other one wasn’t for a touchdown, but it was the second or third play of the game, and he got a big gain.”

Nolan may elect to shadow or keep a spy on Newton.

“You must be disciplined,” Nolan said. “We got pinned last time, last year. Both runs were similar to what the run was last week (Andre Ellington’s 80-yard run). It was a similar thing. He went inside, everybody collapsed, and he got outside. We can’t allow that to happen.”