Not very well.
The Panthers may have won their first matchup of the year, but it would be hard to call their performance a “victory.” The offense struggled as a whole against a defense that ranked 26th in yards allowed last season. On the ground, the Panther’s had a very ineffective day against last year’s 27th ranked rush defense; making matters worse, Jacksonville was missing one of the game’s best defensive lineman in Sen’Derrick Marks. Without much of a passing game at the moment, the Panthers must find a way to rush the ball if they want to compete with some of the tougher teams on the schedule.
On the day, the Panther’s rushed the ball 35 times: 18 attempts for Jonathan Stewart, 14 for Cam, 2 for Fozzy Whittaker, and 1 rush for Mike Tolbert. The most perplexing thing about all of this was the amount of touches rookie Cameron Artis-Payne received, or lack there of. The fifth round rookie didn't receive a single carry or target on the day, even though he was slated to relieve Stewart to some extent. In fact, only 3 carries went to running backs not wearing the number 28. This comes shortly after Rivera stated he only wanted Stewart receiving around 15 touches (he got his hands on the ball 22 times). I’m not sure what to make of J Stew’s increased workload, other than Artis-Payne may not be as far along as originally perceived.
This leads to the actual performance of Stewart and company. Including Cam’s runs, the Panthers rushed for a measly 105 yards on the aforementioned 35 carries. This averages out to a Trent Richardson-esque 3 yards per carry. Tolbert was the only player to run the ball and average above 3.1 ypc, for his lone carry went for a gain of 12. I have to say I expected more from our backs and young/talented interior line, even with Kalil’s lingering injury. So why did we post such pedestrian effort on the ground, there has to be an explainable reason.
One reason for the poor ground game is the fact that we have no real threat in the receiving corp. Once the Jaguars were able to take Olsen out of the game, and the receivers weren't catching passes, the ground game began to suffer. In addition to this, Daryl Williams went down with injury. His injury forced Remmers to stay at right tackle and a gimpy Kalil to play every offensive snap. Remmers did impress in run blocking, posting one of the highest run block grades among tackles this week at +1.4 via Pro Football Focus. Remmers played a heck of a ballgame, performing very strong in the run game and allowing only one pressure as a pass protector.
The growth of the offensive line as a unit will pay dividends in the run game. It’s good to note that Remmers’ great play will not force a rushed recovery for Daryl Williams. The development of Devin Funchess and Kevin Norwood should open up the passing game and consequently do the same for the run game. Though the ground game isn't a quick fix, I’d expect a better performance against the Texans next week, even though they sport a much better defense than the Jaguars. The break point should be a little after midseason, we will need to have a run game if we want to even make a run for the playoffs. The Falcon’s offense showed they can score the football; and even with our defense, we will have to score some points of our own.
By Grant Hughes
Follow Grant on Twitter @KenjonVander