No pair of running backs had ever rushed for 1,100 yards each before DeAngelo Williams and Johnathan Stewart accomplished that feat during the 2009 season. This little talked about NFL record did not look possible late in the season. In fact, Williams had to suffer an injury in order to clear the way for Stewart to eclipse the 1,100 yard mark.
If both backs are healthy for all 16 games, can they replicate this feat? Could they even break their own record? Could each back top 1,200 yards rushing?
The answer is “yes.” The Carolina Panthers run the football as much or more than anyone in the league. The top rushing team in the league last season was the NY Jets, finishing with 2,756 total rushing yards. Judging by the Panthers’ 2009 season, if they can improve their running game early on, they could also top 2,700 yards on the season.
With this kind of team rushing total, Williams and Stewart could each rush for 1,200 yards, and there would still be more than 200 yards to be gained by backup running backs, fullbacks, quarterbacks, and the occasional receiver.
Assuming the Panther offense runs about 1,000 plays in 2010, it’s safe to assume that 550 of those will be running plays — John Fox has shown that his preference is to run the ball at least 55% of the time. 50 or so of these called runs will surely be designed for a fullback to pick up a third down and inches, for a receiver to run an end-around or reverse, or for the third-string and fourth string running backs to squeeze out a yard or two. That leaves about 500 carries for the Panthers top two running backs. Given John Fox’s pension for sharing carries at roughly a 56/44 clip, let’s estimate that Williams gets 275 carries, and Stewart gets the other 225 carries.
With 275 carries, Williams would have to average about 4.4 yards per carry to eclipse 1,200 yards rushing. Williams’ career average so far is 5.1 YPC, so it appears very possible that he will reach that 1,200 plateau if he can stay healthy enough to tote the rock 275 times.
Stewart may be the one to watch more closely. With 225 carries, he will have to average about 5.3 YPC in order to reach 1,200 yards rushing. Stewart’s career average is 4.9 ypc, so he will have to be even more effective than he has been during his first two campaigns if he is to join Williams in the 1,200 yard club.
It might seem rather dubious that Stewart reaches that number unless (knock on wood) Williams suffers another injury. Even if Fox and Offensive Coordinator Jeff Davidson decide to concentrate on running the ball even more, it would still take a monumental effort for Stewart to reach 1,200 yards with only 225 carries. But we must consider something that may allow Double Trouble to accumulate these gaudy statistics, and that is the strength of schedule (or lack thereof). The Panthers have the 23rd toughest schedule in 2010, down from the second toughest a year ago. Typically the weaker teams are weaker because they cannot contain their opponent’s running game. If the Panthers can take early leads in some of their contests, look for Fox and Davidson to keep pounding throughout the second half. So early leads my make way for an increased number of carries for Double Trouble.
Statistics and records aside, the best part of this tandem is their humility and their cohesiveness. Both of these Pro Bowl-caliber backs put winning in front of personal statistics and accolades. That wisdom and unselfishness is what allows such a great tandem of running backs to co-exist, and to co-exist so effectively.