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Panthers' Cam Newton is running at a record pace

While the Panthers don't want Cam Newton to run as much as he has, Newton has been smarter about his running this season. Grant Halverson/Getty Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The goal might be to run Cam Newton less, but the Carolina Panthers quarterback is running more than ever.

The two-time Pro Bowler has averaged 10.75 carries and 48.75 yards rushing through four games. That averages out to 172 carries and 780 yards over a 16-game schedule.

Newton’s season high was 127 carries for 741 yards in 2012.

Coach Ron Rivera said after Newton carried 14 times for 35 yards in the opener that ideally he’d like to see his franchise player run six to eight times, with those carries consisting of 2-3 sneaks, a couple of zone reads and a couple of scrambles.

But Newton has carried 10 or more times twice since, including 12 carries for 51 yards in Carolina’s win at Tampa Bay before the bye.

“He’s going to play to his ability," Rivera said. “He’s going to do everything he can to win. The thing I like is he’s been smart about it. You see him sliding a little more. You see him running out of bounds a little bit more, which I think is huge."

Offensive coordinator Mike Shula doesn’t know if Newton will continue to run at his current pace, but he admits “he’s been good so far."

What Shula likes is that Newton is choosing his runs more wisely and keeping the chains moving. He agreed with Rivera that Newton is “playing his most complete" football now.

So that prompted the question: Will running always be a part of Newton’s repertoire and this offense as long as Shula is calling the plays?

“As long as he’s healthy, yes," Shula said. “And we feel like we’re not giving him too much. It will tweak week to week depending on certain teams and just in general it will be a part of our offense, because sometimes he has just bailed us out on third down plays.

“Whether it was pressure or nobody open, he’s just made some unbelievable plays."

Sunday’s game at Seattle might be a good week to adjust the carries. Newton has 35 rushes for 141 yards and no touchdowns in four games against the Seahawks.

While that’s still a healthy four yards per carry, it’s more than a yard less than what Newton typically gets against most teams.

“First of all, they don’t give up very many big plays," Shula said when explaining why Seattle has been effective at slowing Newton. “So those long runs he potentially might have against other teams . . . they get to the ball fast.

“Their zone defense I think helps them. Not just zone, but the way they play their zone defense helps them get to the ball quickly."

Newton likely will have to improve this season’s 55.4 completion percentage in order to beat Seattle. Shula admitted that has to go up “if we are going to continue to win."

But Shula says Newton’s leadership and decision making never have been better, even on the runs.

Rivera agreed, but his goal remains to have Newton run less.