DeAngelo Williams and the Carolina Panthers are beginning to reassert themselves as one of the NFL's top running teams.
The Carolina Panthers (2-6) will host the Tennessee Titans (4-4) at Bank of America Stadium at 1 p.m., and the most famous running back in this game has Carolina roots, but he won't be playing for the home team.
The Titans' Chris Johnson played his college ball across the state at East Carolina, and the 24th pick in the 2008 NFL draft burst onto the scene with 1,228 yards in his first season, finishing behind only the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback, Matt Ryan, in Rookie of the Year voting.
Johnson, the 2009 AP Offensive Player of the Year, is known to NFL fans by one of the most appropriate nicknames in professional sports, CJ2K, which he earned in his second year as a Titan after becoming just the sixth running back in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards (2006 yards/14 touchdowns/125.4 ypg) in a single season.
However, Johnson's production has been down this season after holding out for a big contract while his teammates were in training camp this summer.
With only 366 yards on 121 carries so far this year, Johnson may not be the best running back on the field in Sunday's contest.
The Carolina Panthers' running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, nicknamed "Double Trouble," have had plenty of success in their own right.
Who will be the leading rusher in Sunday's game?
Williams and Stewart became just the sixth teammates in NFL history to each rush for 1,000 yards in the same season in 2009, the same year Johnson enjoyed his historic run. Williams carried the ball for 1,117 yards and Stewart eclipsed the standard for top-shelf NFL running backs with 1,133 yards on the ground.
Neither Panther running back is on pace to eclipse the 1000-yard mark this season, but Williams (363 yards) and Stewart (327 yards) have combined to average 4.7 yards per carry compared to Johnson's 3.0 yards average, and both Panthers running backs are capable of having a big game on any given Sunday.
The Third Dimension
The Carolina Panthers have added a third runner to the mix this season in rookie quarterback Cam Newton, and he, too, has proven he can move the chains and get into the end zone with his legs.
Newton, the top candidate for 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year, leads the Panthers with seven rushing touchdowns and his 319 yards on the ground trails only the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, Michael Vick, for the NFL rushing lead at his position.
However, Newton's greatest strength, and for many the biggest surprise of the 2011 NFL season, is his skill as a passer.
Who will win Sunday's game?
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera would surely prefer Williams and Stewart to carry the bulk of the running load while his golden-armed slinger sits in the pocket and targets Steve Smith, Greg Olsen and the rest of his receivers.
Rushing Into the "Wins" Column
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both got off to slow starts this season while Newton started the season with consecutive 400-yard passing games, but the Panthers have since jumped to eighth in the NFL in rushing with 129.6 yards per game.
Panthers' offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's balanced and creative play calling is a big reason for Carolina's improved rushing attack as the season has progressed.
In the Panthers' best offensive performance of the season, a 33-20 victory over the visiting Washington Redskins, the Panthers controlled the clock and kept their defense off the field for much of the game by running the ball 37 times for 175 yards and two touchdowns while Cam Newton completed 18-of-23 passes for 256 yards and a score.
The Panthers game plan against the Titans will likely feature a similarly run-oriented attack, and if all goes according to plan, the Titans' Chris Johnson will be the last running back Panthers fans are talking about at the end of the game.
As a wise man once said, Double Trouble in the hand beats CJ2K in the bush.