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Carolina Panthers

Run game troubling opposition


CHARLOTTE - In seasons past, Panthers running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have happily shared the workload, but this season there hasn't been as much to share.

Carolina has gone to more of a pass-first offense, and rookie quarterback Cam Newton has been getting his share of carries as well.

Still, "Double Trouble" isn't causing any trouble over the new order, especially with the running game remaining in good order.

Quietly, the Panthers enter Sunday's game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing yards and second in yards per attempt.

"They rib us all the time, 'Hey, I'd love to have a few more. We're here for you if you need us,'" Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "But at the same time, they're not over there telling them, 'If they gave it to me more, we'd be doing this or that.' They understand and believe in us.

"They have a lot of respect for what we're trying to do as a football team. They understand the dynamics of our offense and how they fit. And they respect each other tremendously, first and foremost."

In 2009, when Williams and Stewart became the first teammates in NFL history to each rush for more than 1,100 yards in the same season, they averaged 30.4 carries per game between them.

Last year, when they played together in just six games because of a foot injury that cut Williams' season short, they averaged 22.8 carries in those six games on an offense that struggled to maintain drives.

This season, they're averaging 18.3 carries per game, a number limited by Newton's 7.8 rushes per game but boosted by an offense that ranks fifth in the NFL in total offense.

"You've got these two Ferraris behind you – these two workhorses. You want to let them go, but at the same time we've got so many different things we can do," Panthers center Ryan Kalil said. "It's tough, but at the same time, you're keeping the mileage low.

"We've set the bar so high in previous years, and part of that is because we haven't had the dynamics of a passing game. With some of our new talent and Steve (Smith) playing the way he is and with (offensive coordinator) Rob Chudzinski, we have some elements that we haven't had in the past. We've been able to exploit those things against people that are playing the run first."

Early in the season, in light of the running backs' proven track record and the unknown of Newton, defenses stacked the box to stop the run, and Newton responded by racking up big passing numbers.

As defenses realized that Newton could beat them with his arm, they backed off, opening more holes for the running backs to roam.

Last Sunday in a victory at the Indianapolis Colts, the two trends met in the middle. The Panthers ran the ball 35 times for 201 yards and threw the ball 27 times – completing 20 – for 208 yards.


"We were balanced," said Williams, who rushed for 69 yards and scored twice. "We established the run, and then we established the pass. We ran our offense. It felt great."

Chudzinski is a big believer that the passing and running games always have each other to thank for any success they have. He also, however, sees reasons why the running game has picked up separate of any influence from the passing game.

"We have improved as the season has gone on," Chudzinski said. "It's the continuity from the beginning of the season – getting the guys in there playing together some – and it's us seeing what the guys can do the best and what fits us.

"It's also how the quarterback runs have evolved and how that fits into the package. That's all helped us be successful, and people being concerned about our passing game has helped give us a chance to run against some fronts and boxes that are more advantageous."

Rivera foresees more opportunities for "Double Trouble" in due time, namely when every game doesn't come down to the wire.

"You'd like to have bigger leads so you can run the ball," he said. "When you get a lead and continue to build that lead, now you allow yourself to utilize those players differently. We haven't had that opportunity.

"What we can become as an offensive football team, we're just scratching the surface."

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