Breaking Down Carolina's Inability to Run the Football

Charles EdwardsContributor INovember 14, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 17:  Mike Tolbert #34 of the Carolina Panthers sits with teammates DeAngelo Williams #34 and Jonathan Stewart #28 during their preseason game against the Miami Dolphins at Bank of America Stadium on August 17, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Much has been said about the lack of production from Carolina Panthers offense this season. 

A year removed from being one of the dominant units in the league, the offense has seemingly been a shell of it's former self since Week 1.  Most of the shortcomings have been the result of the running game not doing what it was designed to do.

The Panthers feature three of the best running backs the NFL has to offer. 

DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert are all capable of being feature backs for any team in the league, but have found themselves committed to Carolina. 

Tolbert took considerably less money in order to play for Carolina, while both Williams and Stewart were the subjects of trade talk over the past year.

Currently, the Panthers rank 15th in rushing and 21st in rushing attempts.  Only the Tennessee Titans have rushed fewer times for more yards (1066 yards on 222 carries). 

To put things in perspective, Carolina is being out rushed by opponents 1,017 to 982.  

The lack of a running game is certainly a frustrating concept for fans to comprehend because both Williams and Stewart are both capable of rushing for 1,000 yards in a season. 

While Tolbert has yet to reach this mark, he has proven to be a vital asset in the red zone offense, but hasn't been the same player he was while in San Diego.

Offensive Line Flux

While this would be a small reason for the running game to take off, the simple fact is the line has seen the loss of veteran center Ryan Kalil and the utilization of youth as starters. 

Rookie Amini Silatolu and second year player Byron Bell have done well, but their inexperience has shown at times. 

Recently, it seems as though the line has been playing better in all aspects, by protecting Cam Newton and opening up running lanes for the backs to make plays.  Newton hasn't helped their cause by scrambling from the pocket and picking up a short gain or taking a considerable loss in the backfield.

The line's struggles were evident on Sunday, as they allowed the Denver defense to sack Newton seven times. 

They didn't fare too well in the running game either.  However, as mentioned before, they are partially to blame for the lack of success on the ground.

Why is Cam Running So Much?

For a team that boasts an elite group of backs, why is Newton running more than they are?  Better yet, why is he leading the team in rushing yards? 

Newton is third in rushing attempts with 63 (leader Williams has 10 more than he does), but he leads the team with 354 rushing yards.  Stewart and Williams follow him with 266 and 253 yards, respectively. 

It would make sense for a team to protect it's quarterback, especially one that is supposed to be the face of the franchise for years to come.  Granted, a lot of those rushes are not designed plays, but rather Newton scrambling from the pocket due to a heavy blitz or being unable to find any of his receivers open. 

What makes it even worse is that Newton leads the team in rushing touchdowns with four. 

Williams has three and Tolbert has two.  Stewart has yet to see pay dirt, which is unusual because of his reputation as a red zone running back.  Of course, it is not solely his fault for being unable to score.

What is Up with the Play Calling?

One would think that with the personnel that offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has at his disposal, he would be keeping opposing defenses on their heels. 

Not so much this year. 

The success that Carolina had at running the ball and making the ground game a very dangerous part of their offensive philosophy has been virtually non-existent this season. 

A lot of that can be chalked up to the constant use of the read option that seemed to be called on every other play for the first six weeks of the season. 

The aftermath of such plays were generally met with disastrous results.  Chudzinski finally realized that it wasn't working and went with a more balanced, traditional game play that didn't favor the option.

However, Carolina's running game still remains a mystery.  It has yet to see a running back reach 100 yards rushing in a game, and at it's current pace will fail to see either Williams or Stewart get close to their 2011 rushing totals. 

Forecasting the Future

It is hard to say how the Panthers running game will fare the rest of the season given the teams they will have to play. 

There is still a chance they turn it around, but will it be enough?  The offense has looked great when there is a fair balance between the rushing and passing games.

So far, the only major changes have affected the run game, with Williams dropping to the number two spot in favor of Stewart who has started the past couple of weeks.  Williams is still a talented runner and with Tolbert in the mix, there is no such thing as a second or third string running back on this team. 

The key is finding a way to make the most out of the talent these men possess.  They also need to be getting the necessary support from their teammates to help carry the offense.  When that happens, the Panthers may find their offense among the league's best, once again.