Panthers now say it's fine for Cam Newton to run the football

ByDavid Newton ESPN logo
Monday, November 6, 2017

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Upon further review, the Carolina Panthers are fine with allowing quarterback Cam Newton to run as long as he continues to be smart about avoiding big hits.

"If you go back and look at some of the years we had success, three years in a row [2013-15], a big part of it was him running the football," coach Ron Rivera said Monday. "I'm not going to duck that. I'm going to be honest about it.

"There's a bit of energy he brings when he does run the football."

Offensive coordinator Mike Shula agreed.

"It is part of his game," he said. "You take that away, you're taking a piece of him and his game away. A delicate balance."

Rivera said after the 2016 season that he wanted the offense to evolve to depend less on Newton as a runner and more on the playmakers around him for Newton's long-term health.

The team drafted running back/wide receiver Christian McCaffrey in the first round and wide receiver Curtis Samuel in the second round to give the 2015 NFL MVP more dynamic playmakers.

But in Sunday's 20-17 victory over Atlanta, Newton rushed nine times for a season-high 86 yards. In the past four games, he has rushed 40 times for 251 yards and two touchdowns, including a 9-yarder against the Falcons in which he launched himself into the air at the 3 to get the ball in his right hand over the goal line.

Newton ranks 11th in the NFL in rushing yards over the past four games. He has outrushed two teams -- Cincinnati (158 yards) and Detroit (137) -- since the start of Week 6.

If Newton continues his pace from those past four games of 9.75 carries per game, he'll finish with a career-best 137. He had 132 during his 2015 MVP season in which the Panthers reached the Super Bowl.

Although Rivera admitted it's a fine line putting his quarterback at risk in the run game, he sees the value in Newton running as long as he remains smart with it.

"The only thing a little on the exciting side was when he leaped to get the touchdown," Rivera said. "That was a little too much, but I ain't going to stop him."

Newton didn't sound in training camp like a quarterback who planned to stop running, even though he was limited in practice while recovering from surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff.

"That's my edge," he said at the time. "You going to expect a lion not to roar?"

Newton already has established many of the career rushing records for a quarterback. His 52 rushing touchdowns in less than seven seasons is nine more than second-place Steve Young had 1985-99. His 3,907 yards rushing is the most by a quarterback since the 2011 season and fourth on the NFL's career list.

"It is one of his strengths," Rivera said.

But Rivera wanted Newton to back off his running because entering the season his quarterback had been hit or sacked 922 times. Seattle's Russell Wilson ranked second at the time with 615.

Since Newton was turned loose to run after the third game, he has done anything but back off. He has averaged 9.1 carries per game in that six-game span.

He averaged 8.25 carries a game in 2015.

Rivera said Newton's energy level and the energy of the entire team seem to increase when the quarterback runs.

"He can become infectious for us," he said. "Guys pick up on that energy level."

Although the touchdown run against Atlanta was a scramble, Newton is averaging 44 yards on 5.5 designed runs over the past four weeks. That's up from averaging 10 yards on 2.4 designed runs the first five games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"It's a fine line that we walk," Shula said. "Probably more so than anything else is the trust that we have in him in that he's going to do a good job and that he feels OK with it.

"He's probably the other way. He probably would want to run it more. I don't want to ask him because I know the answer."

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