A lot has been said and written about the passing attack for the Carolina Panthers. Effectively replacing an entire WR corps is rarely done in the NFL, I can’t think of a time it has ever been done after a division-winning season. But a funny thing happens when you’re looking for the jab, you get hit with the haymaker. In Cam Newton’s first season in the NFL, the Panthers were 1st in Yards per attempt and 3rd in total rushing yards. The next year they dropped to 9th in both categories. And last year, the team was outside of the top 10 in total rushing yards and plummeted to 16th in yards per carry. Notice a pattern? The running game which was previously elite has fallen to mediocre.
A large part of the decline must be due to the stagnation of the position’s talent. The duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart seemed like a great idea when they were put in the same backfield in 2008. Indeed, in 2009 they combined for over 2200 yards; good enough to finish 3rd in the League in both yards per game and per attempt. Fast forward to now and the running game—the foundation of the team, has steadily decreased. The duo combined for just over 1,000 yards last season. While having Cam Newton will buoy any team’s running attack, his injury and offseason surgery may mean he is less mobile; or at the very less likely to take off while he recovers.
With a passing game that may struggle early, the team’s running contributions need to be steady, and the running game needs to be a consistent threat. Moreover, having a competent and effective running game will aid in the battle of the time of possession that every Panther game turns into—and will be instrumental in giving the defense ample time to rest. Even an elite defense like the one in Carolina will need to get off the field, and a solid running game will lead to longer drives. Even without putting up points, keeping the defense off of the field should be a goal for the Panthers.
The passing game and the overhaul on the left side of the offensive line (something that could also affect the running game) will draw most of the scrutiny until those respective units prove themselves. But long-time Panthers fans that have counted on a top tier running game to supplement the offense’s other shortcomings should be leery of past success dictating future glory.