Panthers Returning To Former Coordinator Henning's Philosophy Under New OC

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst IOctober 18, 2008

Every Carolina Panthers fan knows head coach John Fox's offensive philosophy: run, run, and run some more.  But, since about 2003, the year Carolina had the running duo of Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster, the rush offense has been terrible.  It ranked 28th in the league in 2004, 19th in 2005, 24th in 2006, and an acceptable 14th in 2007.

Last year and this year, in particular, the Panthers haven't run the ball well.  That's because of predictable, run-heavy play calling, misuse of the running backs, and injuries to other parts of the offense (the pass offense was disturbingly ineffective last year after starting QB Jake Delhomme missed most of the season with an elbow injury, and a makeshift offensive line has been starting for most of this year). 

So they got rid of the Foster, whose 2007 campaign paled in comparison to DeAngelo Williams' even though Foster had 103 more carries, and retained Williams, whom they planned to use in a platoon with a power back whom they would draft.  That new power back turned out to be Oregon's Jonathan Stewart. 

The new speed-and-power tandem of Williams and Stewart was supposed to return Carolina to its glory days when they could run the ball with the best of them.  That hasn't really happened, though.

The Panthers rank in the bottom half of the NFL in several major statistical rushing categories: 19th in yards per game (109.2), 27th in yards per carry (3.6), and 26th in 1st down conversion percentage (18.8 percent). 

On the flip side, Carolina does rank ninth in the NFL in rushing touchdowns scored, with six.  But if one looks closer, one can see that two of those touchdowns were scored against the Chiefs, who have one of the NFL's worst defenses.  Two more were scored in one half by Stewart, whose running style was a perfect fit for the team he did it against, the Bears.

That leaves only two rushing touchdowns scored during the Panthers' other 4.5 games this season.  That's terrible.

As for individual performance, neither Stewart nor Williams has impressed much. 

Stewart was at his best in the second half of the Chicago game, when he rushed for 76 yards on 13 carries and scored two touchdowns.  He also averaged 5.3 yards per carry against the Chargers in a secondary role.  But outside of those two games, he's only averaging 3.3 yards per carry this year and scored two touchdowns. 

Williams' best game was against the Chiefs, when he ran for 123 yards on 20 carries and scored twice.  Like Stewart, he also ran well against the Chargers, averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

But there have been prolonged stretches this season where neither back has been up to snuff.  Keeping in mind that the Kansas City game really pads this stat, Williams has only averaged 3.54 yards per carry since the San Diego game.  Furthermore, Williams hasn't scored in any game except against the Chiefs.

To be honest, Williams is bewildering to me.  The coaches keep using him in short-yardage and goal line situations as well as for inside runs, but he never does anything.  I suspect that they're trying to surprise the defense, but it's not working. 

This attitude is right along the lines of former offensive coordinator Dan Henning, who, before he was fired after 2006, always used to try to fake the defense out by calling runs on third-and-long.  It never worked, and that's why he got fired. 

If Davidson keeps this up, and maintains his stubborn run-on-every-play-even-when-it's-not-working mentality, he could eventually go the way of Henning.

Stewart suffers from this offensive approach, too.  The coaches and front office kept saying that they drafted him to improve the team's ability to convert goal line and short-yardage opportunities as well as run up the middle.  Yet he hasn't been used for that. 

With all the offensive line issues and coaching problems, it's no wonder Williams and Stewart haven't been good.  Neither has really gotten a chance to show what they can do.