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When reliable run game was stopped, Panthers struggled

D'Onta Foreman

BALTIMORE — When it came to offense, the Panthers never came up with a Plan B in Baltimore.

When the running game they've been able to count on all year was stopped by a traditionally sound Ravens defense, the Panthers were left without answers and a 13-3 loss Sunday — on a day when the defense did everything necessary to win.

Of course, they knew it was going to be difficult; they knew what the Ravens were about (one of them in particular). That made it more frustrating to manage only 36 yards on 17 carries.

"Nothing in particular," former Ravens center Bradley Bozeman said on what the Ravens did to stop them. "It's all on us. We've got to pick up next week and get our running game back on track."

In the five previous games under interim coach Steve Wilks, the Panthers had averaged 146.2 yards per game on the ground, and D'Onta Foreman had done a reasonable job of making people forget Christian McCaffrey used to work here. He had three 100-yard games in his last four, which made Sunday's 24 yards on 11 carries stand out in relief. That's why he said he played "like s---" and "not up to my standard" after the game when asked to describe what happened.

"It's tough," Foreman said. "Of course, you have to give credit to those guys. They have a great defense. They play hard. Credit to our guys, I think we played hard all game.

"We have to be better at the run game. I kind of put that on me. I feel like when we run the ball well, we are able to stay on the field. When we don't run the ball well, we get off the field earlier than we want to. I've got to figure out how to be better and make those plays."

It wasn't for a lack of trying, as the Panthers pushed a few new buttons early. They've gone to jumbo packages with backup tackle Cameron Erving as a sixth blocker more often lately, and Sunday, they even lined up rookie lineman Cade Mays as a fullback for his first offensive snap in the NFL, trying to put more bodies on the field in a big-man game.

As the 3-8 Panthers stare into a final six-game sprint of a long season, they at least know they won't necessarily see the likes of the Ravens again. Of their last six opponents, only one is ranked in the top 12 in the league in rush defense (the Steelers, who were sixth in that category entering Week 11). They also face two of the bottom five (the 27th-ranked Seahawks and the 31st-ranked Lions) during that stretch.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the fact there's another aspect of offense that didn't work at all Sunday, or often at all this year with quarterback Baker Mayfield at the helm (his first start since missing five games with a high ankle sprain and the dawning of the PJ Walker era).

The Panthers didn't convert enough third downs Sunday, and Mayfield threw a pair of interceptions late (one on a tipped pass), adding to his struggles this season. He finished the game 21-of-33 for 196 yards with the two picks for a 54.6 rating. He hasn't played consistently well since Week 3. It seems notable that since that win over the Saints in September (which was a coach and a McCaffrey and seemingly a lifetime ago), Mayfield's passer rating has gotten worse every time he started (61.9, 61.7, and 54.6). That number now sits at 67.9 in his starts (excluding the cosmetic second half of the rout in Cincinnati).

So, to sum up, the Ravens did the important thing (stopping the Panthers' run game), and the Panthers never counter-punched, wasting a day when their own defense held Lamar Jackson in check (Baltimore's only touchdown came off a short-field turnover).

"Again, credit to them. I thought they did a great job up front," Wilks said. "We knew coming into the game they were going to have a great front seven. Offensively, our whole thing starts up front, and we didn't do a great job really creating that extra yardage we needed coming off the ball. Again, credit to them. . . .

"Again, we didn't get anything in rhythm in the offense which starts for us in running the football. We've got to do a great job in the passing game as far as executing. It wasn't a great job on our part offensively today."

That's going to lead to a decision at quarterback — Sam Darnold is healthy enough to play, though Walker might not be. But until the Panthers can get back to their personality up front, it's going to be harder for that to matter, no matter who starts at quarterback.

View the best in-game photos from Carolina's Week 11 game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

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