The X-factor: Panthers QB Cam Newton

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, a former Auburn and Westlake High star, is off to an amazing start in the NFL.

After a shaky exhibition season, he has started all five games and has completed 113 of 194 passes for 1,610 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions. He has a passer rating of 84.4.

His yardage total is the most ever by a rookie through his team’s first five games. He passed for 422 yards to open the season against Arizona and then passed for 432 against Green Bay in his second game.

Newton, who’s 6-foot-5, 244 pounds and has strong arm, also is a running threat, with five rushing touchdowns.

If the Falcons can’t keep him under control he can take over the game as the X-factor.

Carolina’s coach Ron Rivera hired Rob Chudzinski as the offensive coordinator to nurture Newton’s career. The two coaches worked together in San Diego, and Chudzinzki brought along the Chargers’ offensive system and has incorporated some of the plays Newton ran at Auburn.

Their attack stresses vertical routes, play-action passes and multiple tight end formations. The Panthers, who roll Newton out a lot, have added some unbalanced line, played some “Wildcat” and have run a collegiate-style dive-option package.

Newton has been tough when scrambling to the perimeter, where he has looked to pass, not run.

“This is a guy that has shown in the first five games that he can extend plays, and there’s that fine line of when you come out of coverage. We’ve seen it happen, and he’s launched the ball 60 yards down the field,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.

The Falcons’ defenders, who had a respectable showing against Green Bay on Sunday night before giving up a couple of late long balls, know that Newton will be a handful.

“He is a leader,” Falcons safety James Sanders said. “He is not playing like a rookie. He’s playing like a vet. He’s making plays for them. He is running that offense and leading them like a 10-year veteran right now.”

The Falcons have prepared for all of the wrinkles that the Panthers will throw at them to feature Newton’s special talents.

“He is doing a good job of reading his keys,” Sanders said. “He’s got a lot of weapons on that team, and he’s taking advantage of them.”