CHARLOTTE – Under head coach Ron Rivera, the Panthers have always looked to control games with a physical, effective rushing attack.
"That's who we are," quarterback Cam Newton said. "That's Panthers football."
They haven't been themselves lately, and Carolina's inability to establish the run game is a growing concern.
Last week against the Lions, Carolina totaled 28 rushing yards and on 28 attempts. Thursday night against the Eagles, Carolina totaled 80 rushing yards on 25 attempts, but 71 of those yards came from Newton.
The running backs – Jonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey and Fozzy Whittaker – finished with 1 yard on 13 carries combined. Stewart, the starter and workhorse known for wearing defenses down through four quarters, had eight rushes for minus-four yards.
"We just flat out missed blocks," head coach Ron Rivera said at his Monday press conference. "We have to get that shored up, we really do."
The missed blocks led to more east-west runs than the Panthers intended.
"Some of those runs that were supposed to be downhill ended up having to be bounced outside," Rivera explained. "We had to bounce sideways, and you don't want to do that against fast defenses."
Some “Next Gen” stats from NFL.com illuminated the struggles against Philadelphia. Here is an excerpt: "Against the Eagles, Carolina's running backs averaged -2.15 yards before defenders closed within one yard of them (NFL average - 0.37), the lowest for any team all season. Not so coincidently, before this game, the worst team performance was indeed the Panthers with a -1.9 average against the Lions last week."
To put it simply, the Eagles – much like the Lions the week before – got consistent penetration and stopped Carolina's run plays before they ever had a chance to get started.
"It starts with us up front," guard Andrew Norwell said. "We have to fix our mistakes, we have to stay in front of our man and keep the ball rolling. We have to give Stew a chance back there.
"We take pride in it. Not to get the running game started… that means a lot to us."
Without a consistent ground game, the Panthers were again forced to rely heavily on Newton's arm. He threw a career-high 52 passes against the Eagles, and although the Panthers had two chances at a comeback victory, that's by no means a formula for success.
Rivera always talks about the importance of reaching 100 rushing yards. It's one of his most essential winning ingredients.
Last week in Detroit, they won without it. But after Thursday's loss to the Eagles, it's time for the Panthers to recapture their identity.
"The last two weeks we haven't run the ball the way we know we can run the ball," tight end Ed Dickson said. "I'm pretty sure the next ten days we are going to be working on that and come back hungrier than we were.
"We have to get that going. We have to be more balanced."
View the top photos from Panthers vs. Eagles by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez and second shooters, Jamey Price and Andrew Dye.