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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Look for Jonathan Stewart to Breakout Against the Pittsburgh Steelers

That’s right, a Carolina Panthers team that has struggled rushing the ball to this point with a backfield riddled by injury, led by a mobile QB with a hiccup in his giddy-up, and a hodgepodge offensive line will successfully reestablish the run game on Sunday night versus the Pittsburgh Steelers!

The Panthers have unsurprisingly struggled to rush the ball this season. There wasn’t much in the preseason indicating that they would, I mean Fozzie “Waka Waka” Whitaker was the most highly productive back for crying aloud. The first two games with Triple Trouble (DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert) didn’t cause too much trouble for opposing defenses either, despite some of the sharpest running by Williams in Game 1 that we’ve seen in a while.  Averaging only 87.5 yards per game and  3.1 yards per carry, Carolina ranks 25th overall in rushing through the first two weeks, placing significant pressure on Carolina’s passing attack.

This may surprise those who don’t know this team all that well, given that Carolina ranked 11th overall in rushing last season.  Last year’s rushing success, however, wasn’t because of the running backs or even the product of a read option scheme featuring Cam Newton. Much of that 126.6 yards per game average came on broken plays where Cam Newton emerged from the  phone booth wearing the Superman cape and made a lot out of nothing. Cam was Carolina’s 2nd leading rusher, accounting for 29% of that 126.6 yds/game rushing attack. Carolina’s running game last season just wasn’t as formidable as the stats suggest. Subtract Cam’s production, and you get a running game that well looks a lot like this season’s--below average.

If there’s a week for Carolina to reestablish the run, it’s this week against the Steelers, who by all measures are even worse at defending the run. Through the first two weeks, the Steelers have allowed an embarrassing 172 yds/game and 5.0 yds/carry. These defensive difficulties are more systemic than just poor execution and tackling, but also stem for poor personnel for Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 scheme.  Weaknesses at nose tackle and at outside linebacker, allows for teams to rush the ball easily between the tackles. Look for Carolina to attack this vulnerability early and often.

There is a concern that Carolina’s injured backfield, manned alone by glass figurine Jonathan Stewart, won’t be able to capitalize on this porous Steelers’ run defense. (Williams is listed as questionable, Tolbert is sore from the Fairley hit, and UDFA Darin Reeves may be activated from practice squad)  Stewart, aside from a minor hamstring injury early in the preseason, has looked tough so far. Stewart has fought hard for the few yards he’s gained this season, and when healthy always proves to be an effective running back.  If Rivera can overcome the nagging fear of overusing Stewart early, Carolina can exploit this Pittsburgh weakness.  Look for Stewart to have a big game in the prime time spotlight Sunday, and inevitably spark a fan discussion that he is back to his 2010 form.

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  1. Don't UnderstimateSeptember 20, 2014 at 5:48 PM

    The Panthers have established that they can get it done in the air with this group of wideouts. Teams have to respect that part of the game now. This will open up opportunity for the ground game. If Carolina can develop this as a formidable part of their offense, teams will have a lot of trouble stopping us throughout the season.

  2. There are a lot of Factors for low production in the running games. First game against Tampa we still didn't have a completed offense where everyone has had an opportunity to gel. DA was QB. Turner had a groin injury which sidelined him for a couple of preseason games and practices.

    Running backs all through camp riding in the "Tour De Panthers" on exercise bikes. Loosing Gaffney and then bringing in Captain American ( Fozzy Whittaker ) and Darrin Reaves to the RB group late in the camp was a big challenge for these 2.

    Then we have the o-line shuffle. Chandler slides from RG to RT and Bell slides from RT to LT. Thing is both were working on both sides of the Tackle position and it wasn't until mid training camp that it was set in stone that Bell would be LT and Chandler RT. Then really LG and RG were a battle in camp with other players taking reps to. But we settled in on Silatolu as LG and Turner as RG.

    Then there is Williams as slide lineman between OG & OT and Velasco as another sliding lineman between C & OG. Then we still have OT Davis Foucault and LG Andrew Norwell Which in this game against the Steelers Norwell needs to be active. This is the only game that we could possibly get a big enough lead to let younger players get some reps.

    All joking aside Foucault and Norwell did a good job in preseason next to each other. They made Fozzy into a Panthers household name.

    So like I said since the beginning of last season the o-line will be fine. O-line coaches John Matsko and Ray Brown are a lot better than people give the o-line credit for. Then that could be said for GM Dave Gettleman as well. Praise Gettleman everywhere but o-line. Yet most don't know Gettleman was a O-lineman in college. Call it his pet project on a shoe string budget. no one ever caught onto what he did right at the end of the season going around grabbing every o-lineman of Practice Squads that had talent.
    now thing that every O-lineman we cut has been picked up by other teams and even taken off the practice squad. That alone speaks volumes about john Matsko and Ray Browns coaching abilities.

    Moving on back to RB's Gettleman did this team a huge favor when he decided to rehire RB coach Jim Skipper who coached for Gettleman with the NYG and Panthers. skipper has to be the best RB in the NFL with having 8 different RB's wit hover 1000 yard seasons. What does it take to be a Panthers RB? Carry the ball mistake free, Catch the ball when it's thrown to you. Block like a lineman on blitz pick ups. Pretty simple by no means at all. Everyone expects the RB's to gain at least 5 yards on every carry or you aren't producing.

    Will Jonathan Stewart have a break out game? Yes O-line will gel more and settle in with Cam back. O-line will rotate more IMO to keep fresh legs in to push the line down the field. Will Stewart be alone carrying the load? No We will miss Fozzy in this game and Delo might take as many reps unless he is really needed. Tolbert still has the contusion on his chest so he might be limited to how many reps he takes. Hold the Horses though. Darrin Reaves who is built a lot like Stewart has been put on the 53 man roster. Next man up. Reaves did miss some preseason games, but watching him at camp he is huge and is a powerful runner. Reaves has legs like tree trunks. So if it comes down to just Stewart and Reaves running the ball don't worry about production falling odd from 25th. What I do expect is the production to go up in all aspects of the Panthers offense.

    Then don't count out WR Brenton Bersin and Philly Brown. With Cotchery and Avant banged up look for these two to get an opportunity to shine.

  3. I would love for us to be able to run the ball successfully. I just don't see it happening unless our o-line decides to block and if we have a down field threat. Benjamin should help with the down field threat. I miss Stephen Davis...