It wasn’t long ago when the Carolina Panthers were known for their running attack.
You could say it was their calling card. But that calling card hasn’t exactly been picking up lately for the Panthers.
In the team’ season opener against the Arizona Cardinals, the team finished with just 74 rushing yards, 18 of which came from quarterback Cam Newton. Running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 56 yards on 18 carries, just 3.1 yards per carry and zero touchdowns. Not exactly a game changer.
I know that was one game but the Panthers have been struggling to run the ball since the beginning of last season and that seems to have carried over into the preseason and now into the regular season.
What used to be the team’s best way of moving the ball and one of the leagues best rushing attacks has now taken a very sharp turn south.
The Panthers used to win games relying strictly on the run. They would run it down people’s throats and even though opposing defenses knew the run was coming, they couldn’t stop it.
They would run it on first down, run it on second down and hey sometimes they would even run it on third down. It was the team’s identity and they were good at it and it lead them to two NFC Championship games and a lot of wins.
Just two seasons ago the Panthers lead the league in rushing as the team had the first ever running back tandem to rush for over 1,100 yards each in a single season.
Williams and Stewart ended up combining for 2,250 yards and 17 touchdowns, one more touchdown then quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Matt Moore threw for.
‘Double Trouble’ as they now like to be called would dominate games. Literally take them over, leaving the quarterback with only the challenge of making sure he caught the snap and delivered a crisp handoff right into the running backs chest.
Man those were the good days, good all fashioned football. But the Panthers were one of the few teams who still relied heavily on the run game, as the NFL as a whole has switched to a pass first league. For them it wasn’t just a change of pace play or only used in the redzone, it was their entire offense. Everything was built off of the run.
But it seems as though that style of play has fizzled out even for the Panthers. Maybe it is the fact that opposing defense still stack the box against the offense or maybe it is just the fact that the Panthers can’t run the ball anymore.
I’ll take option A for 400 Alex.
Yes, I think it is the first reason and not in the least the second option.
The Panthers can still run the ball. Stewart and Williams are extremely talented running backs some of the best in the league and the offensive line is almost exactly similar to the one who blocked for the 2,250-yard season in 2009.
The problem is the running game won’t be effective unless you have at least some semblance of a passing attack. Last season the Panthers didn’t.
Panthers quarterbacks didn’t really strike fear into opposing defensive coordinators minds. Actually they probably made the coordinators and opposing defenses lick their chops at the aspect of playing the Panthers. We all saw it last season, it was tough to bear.
And the run game suffered. Team’s stacked the box with nine or ten defenders but unlike the 2009 season they didn’t even have to respect the possibility of the play action pass.
Skip ahead to the 2011 season and team’s still aren’t respecting the Panthers passing attack. Why would they?
The Panthers have really one main passing weapon in Steve Smith and are starting a rookie quarterback. You plan against the team’s best option and that is still the running game for the Panthers.
I can guarantee you the Cardinals game plan coming into the game last Sunday was to stop the run game. If they were going to get beat, it wasn’t going to be by DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart, it was going to be by Cam Newton.
And the rookie almost did. He threw for over 422 yards and completed 24 of 37 passes. The Panther’s only rushing touchdown was by Newton, not Williams or Stewart.
But now with Newton’s colossal explosion onto the scene Sunday, Steve Smith’s sudden rejuvenation, all coupled with the matchup problems that tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey provide, opposing team’s may have to start paying more attention to the passing attack of the Panthers.
And that means good news for ‘Double Trouble’ and the whole running game.
Now linebackers will have to think twice before heading into the backfield on a handoff, while corners and safeties won’t be so quick to leave the receivers to come up and play the run.
Bottom line, the running game is going to return with a bang, very soon. And if Newton can play up to the level he did on Sunday, it may return better than ever before, which could make the Panther offense better than ever before.
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