Few teams have had more encounters than have the New Orleans Saints with Carolina quarterback Cam Newton since Newton entered the NFL as the top overall draft pick in 2011.
So few have had as many reasons or occasions to dissect his progress, chart his weaknesses and devise ways to keep him under control than New Orleans, an NFC South Division rival that has jockeyed with the Panthers for division supremacy during Newton's five seasons.
And few know just how significant is the jump that Newton has made in a career that has reached potential NFL MVP-level this season, with the Panthers (11-0) remaining as the league's lone unbeaten team entering Sunday's game against the Saints (4-7) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
New Orleans is 4-5 against the Panthers since '11, 2-2 at the Superdome and 2-3 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
"Just looking at this season, all of his numbers – the most important one is, his team's 11-0," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "He's a guy that has been a part of a lot of winning teams.
"They're getting the ball down the field well, so they're right at one of the top 10 teams at attempts of 21 or more yards, they're fifth in the NFL with completions of balls of 21 or more yards. His efficiency numbers – he's at a 111 rating when they're throwing it down the field – so they're getting production, they're getting big plays. He's very poised and confident. You see him getting through the progressions, you see him making the checks at the line of scrimmage.
"Since Day 1 he's been a threat as a runner, but I think he's throwing it exceptionally well, I think there's a calmness to what they're doing offensively and the confidence that he's going to get them to the right play if they're changing a play or changing a protection.
"It all starts with their efficiency in the running game and carries over to their big-play opportunities. He has gotten better year by year and with a player like that, you can specifically see it and you can point to games actually, where all of a sudden there's another hurdle accomplished."
This season, the legs of the hurdles appear to have been halved for Newton.
He has completed 190 of 332 passes (57.2 percent) for 2,466 yards and 20 touchdowns, with nine interceptions, and run 98 times for 427 yards and seven touchdowns. The number that stands out, aside from the 11-0 record, is that Newton has accounted for 27 of Carolina's 32 offensive touchdowns with his arm and legs.
His passing numbers have spiked in the last four games, victories against Green Bay, Tennessee, Washington and Dallas – 73 of 116 (62.9 percent) for 943 yards and nine touchdowns, with an interception. He also has run for 141 yards and three touchdowns during that span.
"Nothing necessarily changed," Newton said Wednesday, "just more so guys making plays when their number is called. There's no magic dust or anything that's special. It's just guys finding ways to win football games."
Newton's uptick can be traced to the 13th game of last season, when the Panthers defeated the Saints 41-10 in New Orleans to begin their current 15-game, regular-season winning streak.
He completed 21 of 33 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions, and ran 12 times for 83 yards and a touchdown. It was that day that the Panthers unveiled more of a no-huddle offense.
"A lot of people want to think it all of a sudden happened, but it's been a work in progress," Carolina Coach Ron Rivera said. "He's been working his game ever since he got here but last year was probably the beginning of it. Our offense has kind of changed, as well.
"It's kind of morphed into some of the things (offensive coordinator) Mike Shula has done to create an offense that plays a little bit more to his skill-set, gives him an opportunity to look at things, make decisions and change plays and different things like that.
"He has really worked on his base fundamentals, his footwork has been outstanding, the decision-making has been even quicker than it was in the past. He's really just kind of, I think, taken over. And you really saw that, in my opinion, last year in Week 13."
The Saints, however have had successes against Newton and the Panthers, as much as any of Carolina's divisional foes. Atlanta is 4-4 against Carolina, with two games to be played this season, and Tampa Bay is 2-7, with one game left against the Panthers this year.
In New Orleans' four victories against Newton, it clearly has affected him as a passer. In those games he has completed 63 of 118 passes (53.4 percent) for 693 yards (173.3 per game) and four touchdowns, with three interceptions. The Saints have sacked him an average of three times per game.
When Newton has been victorious against the Saints, he has been a much more efficient passer – 84 of 139 (60 percent) for 1,223 yards (244.6 per game) and seven touchdowns, with two interceptions. And he has been sacked an average of 1.4 times per game, with four of the seven total sacks coming in one game.
Newton has been effective as a runner in either case – 26 carries for 150 yards and two touchdowns in four losses to New Orleans, 43 carries for 227 yards and three touchdowns in five wins.
And the zone read that he runs presents its own set of challenges.
"You do have to have some variation," Payton said. "We've had some real good plans and had good execution some games, and we've had some others where it just didn't materialize.
"When the quarterback has the potential to carry it, that additional half a man advantage, you have to find a way to compensate defensively for that. That's one of the challenges. The other challenge is just the talent of Cam in that, there's a guy assigned to him and yet, he gains six yards on a run. He's a physical player. I think you're seeing his runs occur in the red area, but he's throwing with a lot of confidence in the field."
As much as any team, the Saints have been able to get a handle on Newton. The opportunity to do so again presents itself Sunday, when New Orleans attempts to end a three-game losing streak.
Photos from the New Orleans Saints vs Carolina Panthers game at Bank of America Stadium. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)