CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Quarterback Cam Newton is going to run the ball when he deems it most appropriate and the Carolina Panthers are becoming more comfortable with that despite his offseason shoulder surgery.
It might be working out after Newton wasn't deemed as serious a threat carrying the ball after the surgery. He had some limitations early in the season. That sure has changed.
"He sees opportunities and he takes them," head coach Ron Rivera said.
Newton has been the team's leading rusher the last four games going into Monday night's home game against the Miami Dolphins.
He carried nine times for a season-high 86 yards in the victory against Atlanta.
"I'm just trying to win football games at a fast and rapid pace," Newton said.
But Newton is setting that pace more and more with his legs, using what has become a major asset for him throughout his career.
Newton said it's a matter of taking advantage of what he can.
"I trust in my preparation, I trust in my body, I trust in the things I put in my body that I'm going to be 100 percent come game time," he said. "I pretty much have an unbelievable supporting cast with trainers and coaches that get my body in tip-top shape when it needs to be."
Newton's running mostly comes on scrambles when a passing avenue might not develop.
Still, there are plays designed with the possibility that Newton will keep the ball and run.
Rivera said he's comfortable with how Newton has been reading plays and going from there.
"You can see how he's getting down or sliding or getting out of bounds," Rivera said. "He makes some pretty good decisions. I think he knows his game. ... I think he's still working his way back from the surgery, I think that's the better way to put it."
Rivera said sometimes Newton uses his ability to move around in order to buy time as a play might develop.
With the quarterback's running plays, another element often becomes evident. That's Newton's enthusiasm. He has provided energy to the offense, and perhaps to the team as a whole.
"That's when he's at his best, when he plays emotionally as well," Rivera said.
With Newton a threat to run growing the past few weeks, it offers benefits across the offense.
"It opens everything up for everybody," running back Christian McCaffrey said.
The Panthers might need Newton involved in the rushing attack in the Miami game because the Dolphins are holding opponents to 94 yards per outing on the ground. That's the seventh-best rushing defense in the league.
Even with Newton's ability to open up games with his legs, that shouldn't deflect from the team's need to get more out of their running backs in the rushing attack.
The Panthers put a big emphasis on their past two games coming against NFC South Division rivals. Now they step out of the conference with the game against Miami, but there are still kinks to work out.
"We still have a lot of work to do," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We feel good about where we're at right now, but we understand we have to keep working."
The Panthers are 2-2 in home games and they're anxious to take advantage of a schedule that will have them at home for four more games before Christmas.
SERIES HISTORY: 6th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 4-1. Carolina won the most-recent meeting in 2013.
--The Panthers have held their last three opponents to four third-down conversions. It's something the defenders are aware of.
"(We) were challenged to step up as a defense," defensive tackle Kawann Short said. "That's what we do around here. We strive to be the best in those kind of situations. We've got to take control."
The Panthers are pretty stout on fourth-down defense as well. They've held opponents to 4-for-15 on fourth downs for the sixth-best mark in the league.
--Running back Christian McCaffrey finally got untracked in the rushing attack by picking up a season-high 66 yards on the ground Sunday against Atlanta. That included a season-long 17-yard carry for the rookie.
"A lot had to do with the blocking up front," head coach Ron Rivera said. "I thought we got our hands on them and we were able to push and Christian was able to make some cuts."
McCaffrey said of the linemen: "We go as they go."
His first career rushing touchdown also marked his third touchdown overall in a five-game span. He's a reasonable option when the Panthers are in the red zone.
"I like to be somewhere where they can call my number," McCaffrey said.
NOTES: S Mike Adams, a first-year member of the Panthers, has an interception in each of the past two games. He's tied with teammate S Kurt Coleman with 14 interceptions since 2014, marking the fourth-most in the NFL during that span. ... G Trai Turner has alleviated concerns about his ailments. After the victory against Atlanta, head coach Ron Rivera said that Turner played his best game to date. ... FB Alex Armah has taken some practice repetitions at tight end and that came in handy last week when backup TE Chris Manhertz went into concussion protocol. Armah's versatility was convenient "so we could do some things we worked on," head coach Ron Rivera said.