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Not taking run game woes sitting down

Posted Sep 13, 2012



Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart couldn't stand that he had to sit out the season opener with an ankle injury.

It hurt even more that from the sideline, he rushed for just one fewer yard than his running mates in the backfield.

"It wasn't fun watching, just for the fact that we weren't winning," Stewart said. "You always wish you could contribute when you're on the sidelines and can't do anything about it."

The rushing attack will get a boost if Stewart returns to action Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, but history indicates that the Panthers should soon bounce back regardless and do so in a big way.

Two weeks into last season, talk of a rusty running game was rampant. Stewart and DeAngelo Williams had combined for just 74 rushing yards, though then-rookie quarterback Cam Newton had run for 71 yards.

The team didn't top 100 rushing yards in either of those two games, but then the Panthers proceeded to top the century mark in all of their remaining 14 games, a record streak for the franchise. For all the chatter about Newton's passing numbers a year ago, Carolina finished third in the NFL with an average of 150.5 rushing yards per game.

Each of the two seasons before that were historic for markedly different reasons, yet both followed a similar pattern when it came to the running game.

In 2009, when Stewart and Williams became the first teammates in NFL history to each top 1,100 rushing yards in a season, the Panthers still failed to reach 100 rushing yards in three of their first four games before doing so in 11 of their final 12.

And in 2010, when the Panthers ranked last in the NFL in total offense and scoring, they still managed to finish a respectable 13th in rushing. That team didn't exceed 100 rushing yards in five of its first seven games but did so in eight of the last nine.

That may be the way things have gone, but Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil doesn't see why it has to be that way, and he plans to do something about it beginning Sunday.

"This is an offensive line that prides itself on running, and a lot of the same guys are here that were when we broke all those records," Kalil said. "I don't think there's a mindset that we have to get into a rhythm; I just think we have to get back to being more physical and get back to what we were doing well as far as being decisive and disciplined."

A year ago, the Panthers had just one week to get veteran right guard Geoff Hangartner up to speed for the season opener after signing him as a free agent, and the team was coming off a shortened offseason. In 2010, they were in transition throughout the season, featuring a rookie quarterback (Jimmy Clausen) and an eight-year veteran making his first career start (Brian St. Pierre) along the bumpy way.

This year, they are breaking in a raw but talented rookie in left guard Amini Silatolu, but the Panthers say they have no excuses for their slow start.

And they certainly have no intentions of letting it continue any further.

"We've just got to go out there and be physical, go out and dictate what happens," right tackle Byron Bell said. "It's about intensity off the ball. We didn't get it going last week, but I have a good feeling that this week we're going to get it rolling."