Panthers finally appear comfortable with Cam Newton running

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is running at a record pace.

Newton will become the first quarterback in NFL history to attempt at least 200 passes and rush 140 times in a season if he continues on his pace of 9.1 rushes a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Newton already has eclipsed 200 pass attempts with 246. He's rushed 73 times for 343 yards, which ranks 31st in the NFL but first among quarterbacks.

The last quarterback to rush at least 140 times -- Newton is on pace for 146 -- was Bobby Douglass with the Chicago Bears in 1972. Douglass threw only 198 times.

The most rushing attempts Newton has had in his previous four seasons was 127 in 2012.

So this begs the question: Is Newton running too much?

There was a time last season when Carolina coach Ron Rivera thought so. He expressed concern about the injury risk his franchise quarterback faced if he continued to run at a high rate.

Rivera re-iterated that again this year after Newton carried 14 times for 35 yards in the opener at Jacksonville. He said six to eight carries a game would be preferable with two of three of those sneaks, two zone reads and a couple of scrambles.

But with Newton fully recovered from 2014 surgery to repair his left ankle, Rivera and offensive coordinator Mike Shula finally have come to grips with letting Newton be who he is.

Newton is calling an audible 30 to 40 percent of the time, up from previous seasons. He's getting more designed rushes than ever out of the read option.

Newton ran nine times for 57 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 37-29 victory over Green Bay that improved the Panthers to 8-0.

"From Day 1, we've always said the threat he brings to the table to be able to run the ball on every play is what we want," Shula said. "Does he have it? Is he giving it to a back? Is it a play action?

"It's what we want the defense to have to look at every time he snaps the ball."

Some analysts say Newton's completion percentage is at an all-time low (53.7 percent) because he's running more than ever.

Shula doesn't buy that.

"I don't think his running [impacts his passing] unless it's something where he's kind of worn out," Shula said. "He's just so talented. Him being in a rhythm both running and throwing has been very effective."

Despite his completion percentage, Newton is being talked about as an MVP candidate. That he's winning is a big reason.

That he's running is a big reason the Panthers are winning. Sunday was the fifth time this season Newton has had at least one rushing and one passing touchdown in a game.

He's done that 29 times during his career, which leaves him two shy of tying Steve Young for the most times in NFL history.

That's another record Newton's running for.

So is he running too much?

"There is that fine line because that's what makes him who he is and that's what helps with our offense," Rivera said. "At the same time, we've got to do it judiciously and he's got to be smart when he decides to run, which you saw [Sunday]. He tried to get out of bounds a couple of times. He slid a couple of times.

"Again, we as play-callers have to put him in position to have success."

The best way to do that is to let Newton run.