Ron Rivera: Panthers tempted to unleash Cam Newton

Cam Newton's combination of size and speed has made him a terror for defensive coordinators since entering the NFL. Over his first three seasons, Newton ran for 28 touchdowns (third most in football) and accounted for 31.1 percent of Carolina's rushing offense.

Things have been drastically different in 2014.

In three starts, Newton has eight carries for 33 yards, representing approximately 1 percent of the Panthers' running game. The dramatic drop-off goes back to health: Newton had ankle surgery in the offseason and fractured ribs in August. In short, Newton hasn't been able to be himself.

When will that change? The Panthers are trending in the wrong direction, losers of two straight by a combined score of 75-29. On Monday, Panthers coach Ron Rivera admitted there is temptation to let Newton embrace his natural style of play.

"But we have to do things the right way," Rivera said on Monday, according to "You don't want to unleash him unless he's ready to be unleashed. We've got to listen to what the trainers and doctors are saying, and we've got to listen to what he's telling us."

"It's very hard," Rivera added. "You can see it. You just know he wants to cut loose and do certain things. You can feel it, and a lot of times you see him start to do it, but it's coming. We've got to do this the right way."

Newton isn't Carolina's only problem right now. The offensive line has been subpar and the backfield has been decimated by injuries. But a healthy Newton is the type of player who can cover up a lot of blemishes. This version of Cam can't.

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