Panthers perfect behind NFL’s top-ranked rushing attack
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The Panthers have their running game operating in high gear.
Carolina ran for 204 yards in Sunday night’s 27-16 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, marking the 17th straight game they’ve eclipsed 100 yards rushing – the second-longest active streak in the NFL behind only the Seattle Seahawks with 18.
The Panthers are 6-0 for the first time ever behind the league’s No. 1-ranked rushing attack, averaging 144.7 yards per game on the ground.
They’ll look to carry that momentum into next Monday night’s game against the Indianapolis Colts. The struggling Colts surrendered 183 yards rushing and three TDs rushing in a 27-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
The Panthers racked up big numbers against the Eagles despite Cam Newton only ran four times. He had been averaging 10 carries per game through the first five weeks of the season.
”I’m fine with that,” coach Ron Rivera said. ”The less exposure (to getting hit) out there, the better.”
The reality is the Panthers didn’t need Newton’s legs all that much against Philadelphia (3-4).
The threat of having him run seemed enough to keep the Eagles off-balanced. Newton gained 20 yards and scored a touchdown, but the Panthers relied heavily on the play of their backs to win their 10th straight regular season game.
Running back Jonathan Stewart ran for 125 yards, full back Mike Tolbert scored twice and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. chipped in with a 43-yard run on a reverse.
Rivera said the biggest help the Panthers can give Newton is establishing the running game early – something they accomplished against the Eagles with Stewart gaining 45 yards on Carolina’s first two plays.
”Nothing sets a tone more than watching Jonathan Stewart or Michael Tolbert or Cam Newton slice through a defense and pick up a first down,” Rivera said. ”It gets everybody oohing and ahhing and sets the tone.”
Rivera credits the finding stability on the offensive line midway through last season for his team’s streak of 100-yard rushing games. The Panthers have filled in nicely around Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil after lacking proven blockers up front early last season.
”It’s one of those things where if we can run the ball effectively it will take pressure off the quarterback,” Rivera said. ”Secondly, it gives your offensive linemen a chance to tee off. And third, it does wear people down a little.”
Said Newton: ”Those guys might not necessarily get the recognition on that play but they are just doing their job.”
Despite releasing the team’s all-time leading rusher DeAngelo Williams this offseason, the Panthers haven’t missed a beat in the running game.
Stewart has developed a reputation for being one the toughest running backs to bring down on first contact. Tolbert has been the power back, showing his toughness by running through four Eagles defenders to get the end zone on a 2-yard reception to put Carolina up 21-6.
”He’s amazing,” Stewart said. ”He’s a bruising, punishing running back. Just to see him doing the things he’s doing, dragging four or five people, it’s definitely fun to watch.”
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