Falcons have a plan to stop Cam Newton’s running plays

The Falcons’ defensive players will face a major task against the Carolina Panthers, trying to stop quarterback Cam Newton.

“He is a big dude,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said.

The Falcons (9-6) can clinch a playoff berth with a victory over Newton and the surging Panthers (11-4) at 4:25 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Panthers have clinched a playoff berth, but are playing for seeding.

The Falcons, the defending NFC champions, need to win or for Seattle to lose to get in. There’s also a scenario where if both teams tie, the Falcons would advance, too.

But, the Falcons know that if Newton is running free around their shiny new stadium, their season likely will end. The Seahawks are 7.5-point favorites to beat Arizona.

Newton rushed for 86 yards in the Panthers’ 20-17 victory over the Falcons on Nov. 5. The Panthers rushed for 201 yards that day, which was a season-high allowed by the Falcons.

“He wears a lot of extra padding, and it makes him even bigger,” Jarrett said. “He’s done a really good job for that organization and with making big plays. We just have to try to contain him, get to him and get some hits on him.”

Newton has rushed for 695 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He rushed for a 2-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left to lift the Panthers to a 22-19 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn knows that the first priority against Carolina is stopping Newton.

“When you play a team that has some option to them, you better have your option rules right,” Quinn said. “That’s certainly something that defensively we began (Tuesday) and they are working through them again (Wednesday) in preparation for the game.”

The Falcons’ run defense has improved vastly since the showing against the Panthers. The Falcons are giving up 105.2 yards per game, which ranks eighth in the NFL.

“You just have to be disciplined,” Jarrett said. “Guys have to do their jobs. A lot of teams that run the option they have different ways that they can get the ball to different people. That puts a lot of stress on everybody on the defense to be disciplined.”

The Falcons will watch the video from the previous game.

“You have to take every game as an individual case,” Jarrett said. “You have to re-prepare and see if there is something from the last game that is going to help you win this game.

“You have to go through everything again and give them the same type or preparation-respect that you did the first time and try to be better.”

The Falcons must prepare for Newton’s designed runs and for his scrambles out of the pocket.

Rookie defensive end Takkarist McKinley played 23 defensive snaps (35 percent) against the Panthers in November.

“As a defensive line, we have to make sure that we collapse the pocket,” McKinley said. “We have to make sure that we are discipline in our rush because once Cam sees there is a lane open or a gap open, he’s going to take it. As a (defensive) line, we have to be real smart when we are rushing him.”

Jarrett has taught McKinley the value of studying film.

“You played the team once, so you kind of know their tendencies,” McKinley said. “But it’s been a long time since we played them, so they can switch things up a little bit. I’m just watching film. Heavy on film to see if they do this or if they don’t do this.”

Defensive end Brooks Reed played 16 snaps (25 percent) in the previous meeting.

“They do a good job with their read-zone, and they have a lot of different variations of it,” Reed said. “They are trying to isolate a player on the line. They are trying to get him to bite on something. That will be one of the keys to stopping them with those plays. Be focused. Be detailed on those plays.”

Stopping Newton will be a key part of practice this week.

“We can definitely do a better job than we did the last time that we played them,” Reed said. “That might just be the difference, guys on the back side being patient and reading their keys.”

Newton isn’t the only concern for the Falcons.

“Fortunately, it is a team that we are familiar with and some of the style that they (play with),” Quinn said. “Tackling, knowing your option rules, those are big factors for our defense.”

Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett discusses how the defense must play against Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter