Carolina Panthers Retrospective
Time for running game to take off? Panthers face poor rushing defenses ahead E-mail
Written by Steve Reed   
Monday, 25 October 2010 15:06

RB Jonathan Stewart is averaging just 3 yards per carry. (Photo by John Clark)

   CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers have spent the better part of three months waiting for their passing game to develop. Since that portion of their offense is beginning to show signs of perhaps it’s time to get the running game going, too.
   The Panthers averaged 156.1 yards per game on the ground last season, third-best total in the league. This year, they’ve dropped to 23rd in the NFL, averaging just 95.7 rushing yards per game.
   A large part of that is because of the struggles in the passing game.
   With a lack of playmakers on the outside, defenses have focused on bringing extra men in the box to stop last year’s 1,100-yard rushers DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
   “Philosophically, there’s no question that the running game helps set up the pass, and vice versa,” coach John Fox said. “Any time you can make a defense have to defend both it’s to your advantage.”
   David Gettis’ 125-yard, two-touchdown outing, along with Brandon LaFell’s 91-yard game against San Francisco now gives opponents something to think about in the passing game other than Steve Smith.
   So does that mean teams will stop stuffing the box against the Panthers?
   That’s the big question.
   It’s only one game, so chances are opponents are still going to make quarterback Matt Moore beat them through the air and continue to focus on stopping Williams and Stewart.
   So far, that’s not been a problem.
   Williams has 361 yards in six games and now has a sprained foot to contend with. Stewart, who is coming off two solid seasons, is really struggling with just 148 yards. He’s been limited to 3 yards per carry and just doesn’t seem as explosive in years past. Neither has reached the 100-yard plateau this season.
   When asked if injuries have played a role in Stewart’s diminished production, coach John Fox said, “I don’t know if there’s a player in the National Football League that’s 100 percent healthy. But he’s healthy enough to play.
   “I think any of our running backs, we haven’t taken off. You go through spurts, just like turnovers, takeaways and all those types of things. You’ve just got to keep plugging away, and we’ll do that. I don’t think his health has anything to do with it.”
   So can fans expect to see a spurt from the Panthers in the near future?
   It’s possible.
   Over the next five weeks the Panthers face a string of opponents who rank in the bottom half of the league against the run -- St. Louis (16th), New Orleans (17th), Tampa Bay (31st), Baltimore (18th) and Cleveland (20th). Then again, the 49ers ranked 20th in the league against the run coming into this past week and limited Carolina to 76 yards on the ground.
   “It’s hard. All this stuff’s hard,” Fox said of his running game. “It’s hard to throw it, hard to run it. We’ve had different combinations in there. You just keep practicing and hopefully the more you practice the better you get. I think that was true last year, and I think it’s true this year, and I think it’ll be true next year.”