Running success could again come to pass

CHARLOTTE – The Panthers rushed for just 76 yards in their last game, and leading rusher DeAngelo Williams' status for Sunday's game at the St. Louis Rams is uncertain after he missed practice with a foot injury Wednesday.

Carolina, however, certainly isn't running on empty.

"It's not really a concern, especially coming off a win," running back Jonathan Stewart said. "I'm real hopeful."

Stewart's optimism comes from the positive developments in other phases of the offense in last week's 23-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The passing game hadn't even produced a 200-yard day before Matt Moore threw for 308 yards in the victory.

"It makes a huge difference because guys aren't just going to be able to stack eight, nine guys in the box," said tight end Dante Rosario, a key cog in both the running and passing game. "They're going to have to spread out a little bit to cover our receiving threats, and that's going to open up the running game."

Last season, Carolina finished third in the NFL in rushing yards, but the Panthers didn't start out that way. They topped 100 rushing yards in two of their first five games before, in the sixth game of the season, their previously quiet passing game erupted for 309 yards.

From there, Carolina surpassed 100 yards in nine of its last 10 games, including a 270-yard rushing onslaught the week after the 309-yard passing game.

This season, the Panthers have topped the century mark in rushing just twice, but they have high hopes that their 308-yard passing game will do the trick.

"This game is a lot easier when the opponent is one-dimensional," head coach John Fox said. "Philosophically, there's no question that the pass game helps out the run, and vice versa. Any time you can make a defense have to defend both, it's to your advantage."

The hand-in-hand relationship between the pass and run games goes beyond just keeping defenses honest. The offensive line -- as well as Rosario and the other tight ends -- must play well in both phases, and the same applies to the wide receivers.

Moore said that rookie receivers David Gettis and Brandon LaFell, who had breakout games catching the ball against the 49ers, also have caught on in the running game.

"Those guys get down the field and block. They do a heck of a job with that," Moore said. "With the games that they had and the experience they're getting, that's going to have a huge effect on the run game."

With Williams, Stewart and most of the offensive line back from 2009, the pieces have been in place all around for the running game to thrive again in 2010.

So now that the passing game has started to do its part, the Panthers believe that holes for the running game will begin to part.

"Instead of building up frustration, you've just got to believe that things eventually will start to open up the way they're supposed to," Stewart said. "It's a collective deal."

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