Quinn’s Atlanta Falcons handed Carolina its only loss of the season, 20-13 on Dec. 27, also the only time the Panthers were held under 20 points.

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Dan Quinn is the only NFL head coach who can say he has the answer to the question that hovers over Super Bowl 50 — how do you slow Cam Newton and a Carolina Panthers offense that led the league in points scored this season?

Quinn’s Atlanta Falcons handed Carolina its only loss of the season, 20-13 on Dec. 27, also the only time the Panthers were held under 20 points.

That fact made Quinn a popular subject as he walked through radio row this week.

“But I’d rather be preparing for the game,’’ he said with slight laugh.

That’s what he did the previous two seasons when he was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator.

The Falcons played Carolina twice this season — the other game a 38-0 loss in Charlotte, N.C., on Dec. 13. And he faced them three times as defensive coordinator with the Seahawks — wins by scores of 12-7 and 13-9 in the regular season in 2013 and 2014 and a 31-17 win in the divisional playoffs in January 2015.

In a phone interview this week, Quinn shared some thoughts on how the Falcons beat the Panthers and what Denver must do pull off the same feat.



Quinn said one temptation coaches have with two weeks to prepare for a Super Bowl is to rip up the playbook and install new schemes.

But that, he said, might cause more harm than good, giving players more to think about than usual in a tense atmosphere.

The Seahawks under Quinn (and throughout all of the Pete Carroll era) have been known for defenses that are not overly complicated schematically. They allow their players to play to their strengths and play fast.

Quinn said the key to the Super Bowl will be fundamentals more than scheme.

“Tackling in this game is going to be huge,’’ he said. “If I was Denver, I would play the same, fast style. If you try to make something up and think, ‘Hey, we are going to have a whole new scheme, we have two weeks to prepare,’ I think it can only gum you up.’’

Tackling is key against Newton, who is listed at 6 feet 5 and 245 pounds but likely weighs more, as well as running back Jonathan Stewart, the former Timberline High star who is 5-10 and 235. The two were the keys to a Carolina rushing attack that averaged 142.6 yards per game this season.

“We tackled way better (in the second game),’’ Quinn said. “Newton, once he crosses the line of scrimmage, he is really just like a running back, and if you try to tackle him high, that’s when a three-yard gain turns into an eight-yard gain. It can come down to how many of his runs did you just play really well, where his yards per carry was way down.’’

Quinn said preparing for Newton is similar to preparing for San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in that each team has plays designed specifically for the quarterback to run.

He said in that regard, Newton is used differently than Russell Wilson.

“There are not as many designed runs where Russ would take it up inside,’’ Quinn said. “When Russ is outside on zone-reads, if it’s there he takes it, and if not he hands it off, where Cam has specifically designed runs where he’s getting it no matter what.”



Maybe the biggest key to Atlanta’s win was that the Falcons were able to get consistent pressure on Newton. According to Pro Football Focus, Newton was pressured on 16 of 34 dropbacks, with rookie end Vic Beasley having particular success against right tackle Mike Remmers.

Quinn said the Falcons had success at times with a four-man rush and blitzing, specifically on third down.

Quinn said blitzing a lot against a mobile quarterback can be risky, though, potentially leaving lots of open space to run if he gets by the initial line of defense. That puts even more of a priority on the players in the back end to keep an eye on Newton.

“The biggest thing with them from a pressure standpoint is that when you are playing straight man-to-man, one of (the defenders) had better have their eyes on the quarterback,’’ Quinn said. “It’s when everybody has their backs turned that those guys (mobile quarterbacks) can just let it rip.

“ … So you better design (pressures) in such a way that you are not out of balance where if he does take off, you can still stop the play.’’



One of the most surprising aspects of the Panthers’ offensive success this season — they led the NFL with 31.3 points per game — is they did it with a patchwork receiving corps. The Panthers lost second-year standout Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending knee injury in training camp.

But Carolina has managed to complement its Newton- and Stewart-led running game with just enough of a passing game, led by tight end Greg Olsen, who had 77 receptions for 1,104 yards.

Olsen, though, was held to four catches for 40 yards by the Falcons.

Quinn said one key is recognizing the matchups the Panthers will try to create for Olsen.

“I thought they did a nice job this year of knowing when to split him out, because then you know what your matchup is,’’ he said. “When he’s split out, and it’s a cornerback who goes out with him, it’s probably a zone defense, and if it’s a linebacker that walks out there with him it’s probably man to man.’’

Newton’s ability to recognize and exploit those sorts of matchups is among the areas where he has improved the past few years, Quinn said.

“I thought the guy totally nailed it this year from two-minute scenarios to third- and fourth-down plays where he was able convert and make something,’’ Quinn said. “Those were the ones that totally jumped out to me.’’