The Carolina Panthers average 126.3 yards per game on the ground and are the ninth-ranked rushing team in the NFL. With names like DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart as workhorse backs and one of the better running quarterbacks in Cam Newton in the backfield, of course Carolina has a potent ground attack.
Only once this season have the Panthers been held to fewer than 100 yards in a game on the ground, but recently a somewhat alarming trend has started to occur.
Carolina is depending on Newton to produce more of the yardage on the ground of late. Two of Newton’s three 50-plus yard ground games have come in the last two weeks, and his rushing yards are a much higher percentage of the team’s total ground yardage.
|Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton's Rush Production|
|Week||Rushing Yards (Newton)||Rushing Yards (Team)||Newton's %|
|Pro Football Reference|
As Newton is making up more of the Carolina run game, Williams, Stewart and fullback Mike Tolbert are producing less.
After starting the season with three consecutive games of 85 yards or more on the ground and averaging 4.7 yards per carry, Williams has just 91 yards over his last three games. His 3.7 yards-per-carry average seems a far cry from his beginning-of-the-season success.
Stewart has only been playing for the last four weeks after spending the first seven weeks on the sideline with an ankle injury. He burst onto the scene with a 43-yard rushing performance while averaging 4.8 yards per carry in Week 9 against the Atlanta Falcons and then gained 41 yards the next week against the San Francisco 49ers. But Stewart’s next two weeks combined yielded only 41 yards.
Because Williams and Stewart seemingly are slowing down or losing effectiveness, and Newton is becoming more able with his legs, why not ask Newton to do more in the ground game?
That’s a bad idea.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula, head coach Ron Rivera and the rest of the Carolina coaching staff made a conscience decision during the offseason that Newton should become more of a pocket passer. According to NFL.com reporter Kevin Patra, general manager Dave Gettleman told the media at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine that the “read option is an option” meaning Newton should be winning games with his arm and not depending on designed running plays with regularity.
Just because the running game isn’t going well outside of Newton, that’s not a big enough reason to abandon offseason plans that were installed not only for the betterment of the team but for the health of its franchise quarterback as well.
Plus, Newton’s success in the ground game over the last two weeks hasn’t come on designed plays, including read-option runs. Most of his yardage has come as a result of scrambling when his pocket breaks down.
Over the last two games, Newton has carried the football 14 times for 113 yards and a touchdown. While that 8.1 yards-per-carry average looks appealing, more running plays for Carolina’s quarterback shouldn’t be installed into the offense based solely on this average.
Of Newton’s 14 run plays, eight have been scrambles and six have been designed runs. Newton’s gained 88 yards and averaged 11 yards per carry when he’s scrambling away from pressure and 25 yards on designed runs with a per-carry average 4.2 yards.
|Cam Newton: Scramble vs. Designed Run|
|vs. New England Patriots|
|Designed Run||2||4||2 yards/carry||0|
|at Miami Dolphins|
|Designed Run||4||21||5.25 yards/carry||1|
|NFL Game Statistics & Information System|
Newton’s one rushing touchdown over the last two weeks came on a designed run play, which goes to show the Panthers shouldn’t completely take away his called runs, especially in the red zone. But the team would be making a mistake installing more designed runs for Newton into the weekly offense because Newton’s success is coming when he makes his spur-of-the-moment decisions to take off while evading the pass rush.
There’s no need to create additional risk of injury to Newton by increasing his rushing reps. He’s doing fine with the called runs he’s getting and his added scrambles. If the Panthers are going to improve their run game, the onus lies on Williams, Stewart or Tolbert to step up.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.