The Carolina Panthers Rushing Attack Needs to Be More Involved in Week Three

Carolina Panthers Rushing Attack
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Following a downright embarrassing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Thursday night, the Carolina Panthers are off to an 0-2 start for the first time since 2013 and haven’t won any of Cam Newton’s last eight starts. Newton threw the ball 51 times Thursday night, and at times was completely ineffective in doing so. The Panthers are founded on the run game, and it simply wasn’t utilized in the loss. Going forward, especially on the road, Carolina needs to do a much better job of employing the run.

The Carolina Panthers Rushing Attack Must Be a Bigger Part of the Offense

Involve Cam Newton

On 19 carries Thursday night, the Panthers ran for only 39 yards. 37 of those yards came from Christian McCaffrey, and the other two came on a Curtis Samuel end-around. Newton ran twice for zero yards. On the season, Newton has five rushes for a total of negative two yards. It’s no secret that McCaffrey has become the unquestioned anchor of the Carolina rushing attack. However, if the Panthers hope to turn the season around, they are going to have to find ways to keep the run game effective.

One way to keep the ground game a threat is to get Newton involved. As mentioned earlier, he has ran only five times through two games. Over the scope of his career, the former MVP has averaged 7.5 carries per game, and averaged a rushing touchdown nearly every other game. Newton’s rushing ability is perhaps what makes him most dangerous, and without it, he’s an average quarterback, who in this case, is coming off of off-season shoulder surgery. 

There’s certainly questions regarding the quarterback’s health, however, both Newton and the coaching staff maintain that neither Newton’s foot or shoulder have been a factor in the way he has competed these first two games. No other active quarterback has more rushing yards than Newton, and no quarterback has ever rushed for more touchdowns. If Newton is healthy, the Panthers should undoubtedly make him a featured piece (alongside McCaffrey) of the Carolina rushing offense.

Open Things Up for Christian McCaffrey

The obvious piece of the Panthers’ ground game is McCaffrey. In his first season as the true featured back, he emerged as one of the league’s premier backs en route to 1,098 rushing yards to go along with 867 receiving yards. As for those who doubted him due to his small frame, McCaffrey ranked in the top-10 in yards per carry. The 23-year-old got off to flying start in Week One against the Los Angeles Rams, racking up 128 rushing yards, and more than 200 all-purpose yards. He also had two rushing scores against the defending NFC champs.

Unfortunately for McCaffrey and the Panthers, the Tampa game didn’t go nearly as well. On 16 carries, he totaled only 37 yards and no scores. A large part of this was due to a poor showing by the offensive line. However, a lot of it also had to do with the ineffectiveness of the passing game. Newton failed to complete half of his passes and was inconsistent when throwing the ball downfield. Because of this, the Buccaneers could stack the box and eliminate McCaffrey’s impact. When McCaffrey was given the ball, it was oftentimes on very bland, outside runs.

As a result of no true aerial threat, Carolina was unable to do much of anything in Week Two. Part of this issue was play calling. About 75 percent of the Panthers’ plays were pass plays. In a game that was never separated by more than six points, the Panthers abandoned the run early and often, and it ended up costing them. There’s no doubting that McCaffrey is one of the league’s best backs, and that Newton has been possibly the best dual-threat quarterback in league history, aside from Michael Vick. On top of that, the Panthers invested lots of effort in finding a change-of-pace back behind McCaffrey. Carolina has the pieces to be one of the best running teams in the NFL, it’s just a matter of using them.

Last Word on the Panthers Rushing Attack

Fortunately for the Panthers, Week Three should offer a tremendous opportunity for the team to get back on track running the ball. Their opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, allowed more rushing yards and touchdowns than any other team in 2018. On Sunday, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson torched Arizona for 120 yards on the ground, as the Cardinals have allowed the fourth-most rushing yards so far this season.

Carolina will have an opportunity to put up monster rushing numbers this weekend, and quite frankly, they need to. Falling to 0-3 would be disastrous and could lead to some major changes in the organization. With that being said, the playcalling needs to be more creative, and the team’s strengths need to be better utilized. The Panthers’ best bet is to incorporate at least a 60-40 pass-rush ratio, with a heavy dose of McCaffrey and a pinch of Newton. Newton’s first career rushing touchdown came in Arizona. It’s time he adds another.

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