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Panthers offense may need QB Newton to run to be successful

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

By STEVE REED

AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The more Cam Newton runs, the more the Carolina Panthers seem to win.

The Panthers quarterback has been recovering from offseason rotator cuff surgery, limiting the amount he's been allowed to carry the football this season. But with Newton on the mend and the Panthers needing to do all they can get to ignite a stagnant offense, the former NFL Most Valuable Player ran eight times for 44 yards and touchdown on Sunday in Carolina's 33-30 win over the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

Carolina's offense, which had been limited to three touchdowns in its first three games, scored four TDs against the Patriots.

"He's a physical quarterback and you want to protect him at times, but sometimes you have let him loose and do what he does," Panthers tight end Ed Dickson said. "I think it gives him a lot of confidence and statistically he plays better."

The numbers back up that point.

The Panthers are 26-10-1 when Newton runs the ball eight times or more in a game; they are 28-32 when he carries it seven times or less.

Newton said his goal is to win "anyway possible."

But he agreed with the notion Wednesday that the Panthers are much more difficult to defend when he's effective running the football.

"You can talk down about athletic quarterbacks, but you should ask unathletic quarterbacks if they could run - just like the athletic quarterbacks that can't throw - which one would you take?" Newton said. "It just keeps an extra thing in a defender's mind that he has to think about."

The Panthers (3-1) visit Detroit (3-1) on Sunday.

Saints defensive lineman Cam Jordan said earlier this year the Panthers were clearly trying to make Newton into more of a pocket passer.

Jordan later joked, '"I'm OK with it. Perfectly fine with it."

Panthers coach Ron Rivera and the training staff is trying to strike a balance when it comes to Newton.

On one hand they need to think long term about Newton's health since he was coming off shoulder surgery and has taken more hits than any QB in the league since 2011. On the other, the Panthers know what sets Newton apart from other quarterbacks is ability to run the ball, which in turns opens up the Carolina passing game.

Rivera said he doesn't want Newton running more than 10 times per game, even though they are 16-5-1 when he does.

That's one of the reasons the Panthers drafted running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Curtis Samuel - to take pressure off Newton having to make plays with his feet.

The Panthers are spent the better part of the first three games using Newton this year as a decoy of sorts, giving the defense the impression that he may run the ball.

But eventually teams figure it out.

That's why the game Sunday was so big for the Panthers. Now teams will have to honor the running game when it comes to Newton.

Rivera said even when Newton is a threat, it forces defenses to pay attention to him and frees up other players to make plays.

"Now that the threat is there, those backside guys come screaming off the edge and now as defenders they really have to think about what they are going to do because there's always that possibility" of Newton running, Rivera said.

Rivera talked about cutting Newton's carries back in training camp.

Newton didn't seem completely on board with notion, saying later in a press conference that "That's my edge. Are you really going to expect a lion not to roar?"

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Updated October 4, 2017

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