Panthers need to let Cam Newton run

After rushing for just 4 yards in the season opener, Cam Newton gained 71 yards and scored a TD on the ground against the Saints in Week 2. Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin spouted off about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers breaking an unwritten rule Sunday. As Thursday night’s game between the Giants and Carolina Panthers approaches, Coughlin should know he’s going to see another unwritten rule broken by an NFC South team.

The old adage about not having your quarterback run goes out the window with the Panthers, because they have something rare. They have Cam Newton.

Robert Griffin III, Michael Vick and Tim Tebow all have run versions of the read-option offense, but nobody does it better than Newton, and it shouldn’t be just a fad or a gimmick that’s used occasionally.

The Panthers need to use the read-option often. They did on Sunday. In a victory against New Orleans, Carolina had 41 rushing plays that went for 219 yards. Of those plays, 23 were designed options, and they resulted in 143 yards and a touchdown. Newton rushed for a career-high 71 yards on 13 carries.

That came only a week after the Panthers ran just one option play and rushed for only 10 yards in a loss to Tampa Bay.

Let’s hope Carolina’s coaching staff has learned a lesson from those two games. Newton also is a good passer, and the Panthers can’t abandon that. But they need a healthy dose of the running game in their offense, and they need Newton to be a big part of that.

Some may say 13 runs by a quarterback are way too many. And for a lot of quarterbacks, that’s true. It’s often a formula for disaster to have a quarterback running in the open field. Take a big hit from a linebacker, and the quarterback’s season could be over.

But that’s not much of a concern with Newton because he’s as big or bigger than most linebackers. He’s 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds. At times in the past, Carolina's coaching staff has talked about possibly limiting Newton’s carries. It sounds as if the staff is starting to realize that’s not a good idea.

"He gets hit, but not big," coach Ron Rivera said. "And I think there’s a difference in that, as well. And a lot of the runs that we have are calculated. He’s reading for the most part as to whether or not it’s a good idea to hand it off or keep it."

It’s good to hear that Rivera realizes that. The chances of Newton getting hurt on a running play are minimal because of his size and strength. I think there’s a much better chance of Newton getting hurt if he sits back in the pocket too long and gets blindsided by a large defensive lineman while standing still.

"I'm a football player at the end of the day," Newton said. "If they want me to run, I'll run. If they want me to throw, I'll throw. If they want me to block, I'll block. If they want me to go get some water to better the team, I'm going to do it."

The Panthers need to let Newton run because it causes major problems for opponents, and it also sets up the passing game nicely.

The read-option concept is simple. The quarterback goes up to the line of scrimmage and reads the defensive ends and outside linebackers. He then takes the snap and goes to one side or the other with a tailback behind him. Depending on how the ends and linebackers react, the quarterback has the option of keeping the ball or pitching it to a running back.

It may not be conventional in the NFL, but even Coughlin, who is all about convention, isn’t going to take Rivera to task for running his quarterback. Instead, Coughlin is bracing himself and trying to figure out ways to help his defense get ready for Carolina’s read-option.

"Not only are they looking to read certain individuals in a defensive front, they’re also setting up other things by his reaction not just simply if you keep, pull or pitch," Coughlin said. "All of that comes to prevail, and when you have a couple of obvious runners with the ability of [DeAngelo] Williams and [Jonathan] Stewart, it even puts more pressure on you because you’re not going to arm tackle those guys. They’re both fast and they’re both capable of going the distance."

Newton’s teammates know his running ability is an asset, and they’re in favor of using it.

"If he wants to do it, then let him run the ball," veteran left tackle Jordan Gross said. "Because he’s a big, strong guy and he’s one of the best goal-line backs in the league, too."

Newton rushed for 14 touchdowns as a rookie last season. That’s an NFL record for a quarterback. The Panthers are 6-3 when Newton rushes for at least 50 yards.

It’s pretty obvious that when Newton is running, the Panthers have a better chance to win. So don’t worry about convention. Let him run a lot.

Not even Coughlin, who was furious that Tampa Bay’s defensive players still were going hard when the Giants were in their victory formation Sunday, can question going against this unwritten rule.

In Carolina, the rule is the Panthers are a better team when Newton is running.