Panthers seek to get ground game going vs. Bucs

BY foxsports • September 16, 2010

Maybe it was because they faced an unfamiliar defense. Perhaps it was the eight men in the box that dared them to pass. Falling behind by a couple of touchdowns didn't help, either.

Whatever the reasons, the Carolina Panthers failed to accomplish in Week 1's season-opening loss to the New York Giants what they're built to do: run the football.

While the Panthers are trying to downplay it, it's an issue drawing attention as they prepare for Sunday's home opener against Tampa Bay, an opponent on the wrong end of many of Carolina's top rushing highlights.

''I'm not too freaked out about it at this point,'' coach John Fox said.

That's been the central theme this week after the Panthers, who ranked third in the NFL in rushing last season, managed just 89 yards in Sunday's 31-18 loss. It was nothing like the success DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart enjoyed a year ago when they became the first set of NFL teammates to each rush for 1,100 yards.

Williams had 62 yards on 16 carries, but had little success following a 29-yard run in the first quarter. Stewart, who rushed for a franchise-record 206 yards against the Giants late last season, had just five carries for 12 yards after missing the preseason following Achilles' tendon surgery.

Williams took issue this week with a question about Carolina's running woes, pointing out the Panthers' respectable 3.7 yards per carry. Williams averaged 3.9 yards.

''Is that not good?'' Williams asked.

But Carolina never established the run, even early as Carolina took a halftime lead. With Matt Moore struggling at quarterback, the Panthers managed just one touchdown. The offense failed to produce any points in the second half.

''In this league, knowing much about football, sometimes the defense can stack the box and make the running game pretty hard going,'' Fox said. ''It's not a mystery to us. But in a first game there are things that you haven't seen, in particularly when you have a new defensive coordinator, that sometimes aren't as easy to expect and whatnot when you don't have a real book on all the things they've done.''

First-year Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, a Gastonia, N.C., native, had some wrinkles on defense Carolina didn't expect. Fox also argued that once the Giants took a 31-16 lead early in the fourth quarter, they had to pass.

''Sometimes in the fourth quarter down 15 points, ripping off a 4-yard run is not really conducive to trying to win the game,'' Fox said.

But that would have worked just fine when they faced a first-and-goal from the 4 with 8:53 left. The Panthers instead called three straight passing plays, with Moore's last attempt picked off in the end zone by Terrell Thomas.

''I think our biggest downfall in the second half is that we didn't play consistent,'' Williams said.

The Panthers also were a little unfamiliar with everyone. Right tackle Jeff Otah remained sidelined with the knee injury, with Geoff Schwartz starting in his place. While Stewart and receiver Steve Smith played, they sat out all four preseason games.

''I guess you could say the consistency wasn't there based on the fact that maybe Matt Moore didn't have the opportunity to throw Steve Smith passes in the preseason or in training camp,'' Williams said. ''He still handed the ball off the same. If you're looking for excuses you can find them, but we don't accept those. We were just inconsistent in making our plays.''

Maybe the Buccaneers will be the cure. They have been in the past.

In their final meeting in the 2008 season, Williams rushed for 186 yards, Stewart 115 and they combined for four touchdowns in a Monday night win.

In Week 5 last year, the Panthers won 28-21 behind 152 yards from Williams and 110 from Stewart, who combined for three TDs. In the second matchup, Stewart rushed for 120 yards and a score while Williams was sidelined with an injury in a 16-6 Carolina victory.

''They set the benchmark pretty much in the league when it comes to running the football,'' Bucs defensive tackle Ryan Sims said.

Added Tampa Bay defensive end Stylez White: ''This is one of the most physical teams in the league. That's what they hang their hat on and that's what we're going to be - physical.''

The Panthers can only hope that smashmouth football returns as Carolina seeks to avoid a second consecutive 0-2 start.

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