Early Newton runs help Carolina's offense

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It didn't seem like such a big deal at the time, a 14-yard scramble by a quarterback known for his running as much or more than his passing.

But on Sunday, when Cam Newton turned a third-and-13 situation into a first down when it appeared the Carolina Panthers were going three-and-out for the second straight series, something happened.

The New York Giants seemed to get tentative on defense.

The Panthers seemed to gain confidence.

Newton seemed to get into a rhythm.

Next thing you know it was a 38-0 blowout.

"I saw it," fullback Mike Tolbert said after a light Tuesday practice during Carolina's bye week. "I definitely saw it."

So that raised the question: Does Newton running early help get him into a rhythm?

"I don't know," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "I just know he gets excited when he gets to do the first-down thing."

Newton, who does get a bit demonstrative letting everyone in the stadium know when he runs for a first down, won't go that far.

"If I had the opportunity to run, I was going to run," he said. "If I had the opportunity to throw, I was going to do the same. It's not something I predetermined or anything."

But there's no doubt Newton running early helps the offense get into a rhythm. Just ask his teammates.

"Whenever he has an opportunity to use his legs it takes a linebacker out of there because they have to now spot him and be aware of where he is on the field at all times," said running back DeAngelo Williams, who had a season-high 120 yards rushing against the Giants. "It helps our running game and passing game."

The Carolina offensive lineman sensed the New York defense that sacked Newton on the first series was more tentative after Newton's early run.

"It causes frustration to defensive linemen," Gross said. "We were disappointed when [Giants quarterback] Eli Manning ran for a first down. So imagine how upset the other team is when they let Cam Newton do it.

"Something they probably talk about all week is not letting No. 1 get out of the pocket. When he does, it's disappointing to them."

Carolina coach Ron Rivera, as much as he wants to protect his quarterback from injury, admits an early run or two might be good for Newton. It certainly was a big part of his game at Auburn when he won the Heisman Trophy and national championship.

"For him, there's a thing about him being involved," Rivera said. "Running helps him get in the rhythm early. As you look at those things, we've got to make sure we're putting him early in the position to have success. That can equate to a lot of good things."

Does that mean offensive coordinator Mike Shula will run Newton early in future games? Not necessarily, although he admitted the 14-yard scramble "kind of set the tone."

He also said those kinds of things vary week to week.

That and Newton's reluctance to admit running helps him get into a rhythm prompted me to ask if there's a part of him that doesn't want to be known as a running quarterback.

"There's a part of me that wants to be known as a winner," said Newton, who ran for one touchdown and threw for three against New York. "Whatever I do to get that -- throwing, running, passing, blocking, catching -- I'm all for it."