The days of finesse offensive football are over for the Carolina Panthers (1-4)—or at least they should be—if the Panthers’ offensive coordinator, Rob “Chud” Chudzinski, and head coach, Ron Rivera, wish to be employed by Mr. Jerry Richardson at the end of the season.
On paper, the Panthers can respond to back-to-back losses in games they should have in one of two ways. Either they beat the Cowboys or they lose.
But even though and losing is ultimately the only thing that matters, in the Panthers’ case, it also matters how they play the game.
Read-Option's Ups and Downs
For most of last season and the first five games of Carolina’s 2012 season, the Panthers utilized the read-option running attack which Chud installed in 2011 to ease No. 1 draft pick Cam Newton’s transition into the NFL.
Along the way, Newton set a league record for touchdown runs by a quarterback in a single season (14) and passing yards by a rookie quarterback (4,052) on the way to helping turn Carolina into a top-five offense in 2011.
Carolina’s running backs thrived in the read-option, too, with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both averaging over five yards per carry and the Panthers finishing third in the NFL in rushing last season.
But times have changed and teams have adjusted to the Panthers’ rushing attack as they always do in the NFL, and Carolina’s running game has had mixed results so far this season.
In Week 2 against the New Orleans Saints and Week 4 versus the Atlanta Falcons, Cam Newton had the highest two single-game rushing performances of his early NFL career and the Panthers ran for 219 yards and 199 yards, respectively.
But in Weeks 1, 3 and 5, the Panthers ran for a total of just 152 yards
Through five games in 2012, Williams averages a career-low 3.6 yards per carry and he has been held to six yards or fewer for an entire game twice already this season.
The Panthers have not had the leading rusher in a single game this season despite having the most talented backfield in every game.
The Change is in Chud's Hands
So what is going on with the Carolina Panthers' running game?
Has the offensive line gotten soft?
Have Williams and Stewart lost their ability to run?
Has Chud abandoned the run too early in Carolina's worst three offensive games?
Or is Chud simply calling too many slow-developing plays that don't allow Stewart and Williams to use their greatest talents?
I vote for the latter option (as opposed to the read-option).
Successful running teams in the NFL may use zone-blocking and various schemes up front, but the one thing the best ground teams have in common is their decisiveness.
NFL defenses are too good and too fast to fall for misdirection over and over again.
Sure, the read-option is a nice change of pace five or six times per game, but it should not be the Panthers' primary mode of attack.
Chud needs to use all of his offensive weapons and not just his quarterback.
Run the ball with quick-hitting power plays.
Utilize Kealoha Pilares in the screen game, run more crossing patterns for Steve Smith, and make sure Greg Olsen is involved in every game.
And then work the ball downfield and get Brandon LaFell and Louis Murphy involved in the action, too.
But this finesse offense is for the birds.
It is time for the Carolina Panthers to toughen up on offense, or else they can look forward to a two- or three-win season and another potential No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
And nobody in the Carolinas wants that to happen.
Jimmy Grappone is a Featured Columnist covering the Carolina Panthers and the NFL on BleacherReport.com.
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