The Carolina Panthers are 6-0 for the first time in franchise history coming off clipping the wings of the endangered species that are Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles, and it came from the dominating run game that now ranks first in the NFL.
Five different players had at least one rushing attempt, pitching in for a team 204 yards on the ground. This marks the Panthers 17th straight game with 100 yards rushing, good for the second longest active streak in the NFL behind the Seattle Seahawks, who the Panthers defeated just two weeks ago.
Jonathan Stewart led the way with 24 carries for 125 yards on the ground for his first 100 yard game of the season, followed by Tedd Ginn with 43 yards on a reverse. Cam Newton went for 20 yards on just four carries, six below his season average of ten.
Going into the bye week, Stewart averaged 55 yards a game, hard earned yards mind you, but still nothing that jumps off the stat sheet. Stewart's 101.5 yd average in the two weeks since the bye has pulled the season average up to 70.5 ypg. After gaining only 78 yds in Seattle, all hard earned for sure, it was the 125 yds on the ground against the Eagles that really boosted the average.
Stewart's recent success has allowed Shula to preserve Cam Newton a little more from taking hits. Newton's rushing numbers on less action hasn't declined all that much either. Newton averaged 48 ypg prior to the bye on 10 carries per week. The carries have gone down significantly, but the production hasn't slowed at the same rate. In the last two week's, Cam has still averaged 41 rushing ypg. He's become more efficient, with the runs coming in more integral moments in the game. One of his four rushes against the Eagles was a goal line lunge for a touchdown, Newton's fourth on the season. Stewart trails Newton's season rushing touchdown production by half, both recently against Seattle.
"I'm fine with that. The less exposure the better," Ron Rivera stated in his press conference on Cam running less versus the Eagles Sunday night. Stewart's increased productivity is certainly welcomed, and may have come at the best time of the year.
Mike Tolbert looked to be back to his 2013 form where he just couldn't be stopped on short yardage and goal line situations. Tolbert found the endzone early on the Panthers first touchdown drive. He wouldn't be denied later either, where he took a hit after a swing that knocked him back to about the 7 yard line. Tolbert bounced off the tackler, then shook Byron Maxwell, only to drag two defenders across the goal line for his second touchdown. We know momma Tolbert is extremely happy with his play.
Mike Shula's play calling in the run game this season has been pretty damn good, whether you like him or not. He is using all his weapons in different ways making it hard for opponents to game plan. The read option with Cam and Stewart is working, and then as soon as you think you have a read on Cam, he's pitching a reverse to Ted Ginn for 43 yards.
The Panthers revamped offensive line has undoubtedly been a big reason for the Panthers' resurgent rushing attack. Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell both grade out in the tops of Pro Football Focus's ranking. Add pro-bowl center Ryan Kalil to the mix, and the Panthers are in good shape as long as they can stay healthy. Daryl Williams possible return this week would only help solidify this strong line more.
The Panthers run game should continue in their second consecutive prime time game against the Indianapolis Colts. With a defense ranked 23rd against the rush and allowing 122.7 yards per game, Carolina is in a nice position to continue to ride the running game.
By Tripp Morgan
Follow on Twitter @TrippMorgan6