Carolina has been without Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil since week one, and the Panthers running attack has been absent along with him. Carolina’s 95.5 rushing yards per game ranks 22nd in the, but it’s really even worse. Carolina has averaged only 82.7 ypg in the past three games, rushing for only 28 yards against Detroit and 80 yards against the Eagles. Cam Newton accounted for 71 of the 80 yards in their last game against Philadelphia, and the other 9 yards came on a reverse by wideout Curtis Samuel. The running backs haven’t produced. Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey have gained only 32 yards in the last two weeks, leaving the rushing attack outside of Cam Newton anemic at best.
While the inability to rush the ball can’t fall on only one component, Carolina’s struggles are clearly related to Kalil’s absence and their hopes of the ground attack reemerging is similarly linked to his return. Kalil looks like he could return this week after missing five straight games and Carolina is desperate for the boost as they venture to Chicago to take on John Fox and the Bears in what will likely be a game won by the team that can run the ball on offense and stop the rush on defense.
Ron Rivera commented yesterday on Kalil’s value when discussing backup Tyler Larsen’s performance over the past five weeks, stating, “when you see the communication and how he IDs stuff, it’s a little bit different obviously, because Tyler doesn’t have Ryan’s experience yet. Tyler just isn’t quite there yet. I think he will be. He’s a tremendous football player and he’s got great upside for us, and he’s supplied us with tremendous depth. But he’s not a five-time Pro Bowler.”
As Carolina heads to Chicago to play a surprisingly decent Bears team, fans know what to expect from a John Fox coached team—one that wins when they rush the ball and play good defense. With an offense powered by running back tandem Jonathan Howard and Tarik Cohen, and quarterbacked by rookie Mitchell Trubisky, Fox would likely decry “it is what it is” as he outlined Chicago’s strategy for keeping the ball out of Cam Newton’s hands by rushing the ball effectively and keeping the youngster quarterback in manageable passing situations. Chicago won’t want this game to turn into a shootout. Instead, they will want to focus on controlling the clock and staying within striking distance.
With the over/under at 40 and Carolina as only 4-point road favorites, Vegas isn’t betting that either squad will run away with this one. The 4-2 Panthers are the favorites, but this game will likely be a grind it out, low-scoring affair where the war is won on the ground. It’s a type of game that Carolina likes to play, well before they found themselves incapable of running the ball in Kalil’s absence.
Kalil rejoined practice this week and was optimistic when asked if he thinks he will play against Chicago, stating, “I do. We’ll keep working and see how it goes. I just want to get out there and contribute.”
If Kalil returns this week, Carolina may get to their old ways of rushing the ball, controlling the clock, and winning with sound defense, which would make for an interesting philosophical reunion with their former coach John Fox. Although Vegas hasn’t predicted that one team will run away with this game, ironically, it’s exactly what the winning team will need to do.
By Tony Dunn
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