CHARLOTTE – Whether it's coming from head coach Ron Rivera, general manager Dave Gettleman or offensive coordinator Mike Shula, the message has always been the same.
Take control up front.
The Panthers want a powerful run game to be the foundation of the offense.
"We want to set the tone. We want to be a physical team by nature," Rivera said Monday. "We are learning how to do that."
Through seven weeks in 2015, the 6-0 Panthers rank first in the NFL with 144.7 rushing yards per game. They are the only team in the NFL with more runs (197) than passes (181).
During Sunday night's 27-16 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina rushed for 204 yards with 6.2 yards per attempt and produced three touchdowns on the ground. Running back Jonathan Stewart rushed for a season-high 125 yards on 24 carries. Quarterback Cam Newton, typically a big part of the run game both by design and via scrambles, rushed just four times for 20 yards.
"Having 200 yards rushing is a stat I know our offensive line is pretty proud of," Shula said. "Stew was running like crazy and our line was blocking really well."
Added Rivera: "Our offensive line has become solid. And if you can run the ball effectively it is going to take pressure off the quarterback."
The tackles – Michael Oher, who signed as a free agent this past offseason, and Mike Remmers, who was signed off the St. Louis Rams' practice squad late last season – have brought stability to the edges of Carolina's line.
The maulers in the interior are creating the push needed to pound the ball inside. All-Pro center Ryan Kalil is flanked by two up-and-coming guards in Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell, both flourishing in their second years.
"Ryan has been a stud ever since we've been here," Shula said. "Trai is more experienced and getting better – same thing with Norwell. They are physical guys, they like to compete and they're smart."
Newton recently called Turner and Norwell, who weigh in at 320 and 325 pounds respectively, the "tone setters."
"They are always the guys finishing blocks and you get inspired to work your tail off," Newton said. "When we do huddle, if there are two people that are breathing hard, it's Trai and Norwell."
By the end of the game, the goal is for the opposing defensive line to be breathing pretty hard too.
"You have to get after your opponent early on and help set a tone," Rivera said. "Nothing sets a tone more so than watching Jonathan Stewart or Mike Tolbert or Cam Newton slice through a defense and pick up a first down after a hard run."
This offense is thriving off those runs. The opponents know it, so they'll load the box to stop it, opening opportunities for play-action passes.
For the Panthers, proving they can run when they want to and when they have to is a challenge that's embraced every week.
"You have to try to keep a level way about yourself and then have a short memory and get ready to move on to the next week," Shula said. "Be ready to prove it all over again."
View the top photos by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez from Carolina's game against Philadelphia.