The offensive possibilities Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton brings to the table are endless.
In an offense with a quarterback like Newton and a receiver like Steve Smith, falling in love with the passing game is somewhat understandable. Making passing even more appealing, Newton has not one but two elite tight ends in Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey to look for over the middle.
But Carolina’s variety of offensive weapons doesn’t excuse the way the coaching staff is under-utilizing its stars in the backfield. DeAngelo Williams signed a contract in the offseason that pays him like a superstar. His production—5.1 yards per carry—is no different than his pay; it puts him in a category with the league’s best.
Despite his success, Williams is just not getting the ball enough, averaging just more than nine rushes per game. Yes, he’s sharing carries with one of the league’s best running quarterbacks and Jonathan Stewart, arguably the NFL’s best backup running back. It’s hard to argue with Newton’s production, and Stewart’s abilities don’t leave much to be desired, either.
But unlike Williams, Stewart isn’t making approximately $8.5 million a year. The contrast between the emphasis the Panthers made on Williams with their wallets and the lack of love he is getting in terms of play-calling simply doesn’t make any sense.
If the Panthers were winning, the last thing on my mind would be the way a team with the league’s 7th-best rushing attack is divvying up its handoffs. But when a team is 2-8, potential improvements have to be looked for at every position.
The Panthers are throwing the ball extremely well, but not without turnovers. As many yards as Newton is gaining through the air, his 14 interceptions are tied for third most in the league. This isn’t meant to criticize Carolina’s quarterback, but with a rookie under center, I’m not sure why Carolina doesn’t lean more on the running game, particularly on Williams.
With the season winding down, there’s little curiosity surrounding the potential results of emphasizing the pass—the yards will be there, but probably in a losing effort. Williams hasn’t run the ball more than 12 times all season, and has had less than 10 carries in four of 10 games.
I’m not advocating a return to the run-dominated offense carried out by former coach John Fox, but with six games remaining and the league’s second-worst record, I can’t imagine it would hurt to see what kind of production Williams can give Carolina with 15-20 chances per game to get going on the ground.
If nothing else, the Panthers will be able to better assess the decision to pay No. 34 a five-year deal worth $43 million, with $21 million guaranteed.
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