The combination of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart give the Panthers one of the deepest backfields in the NFL.
In fact, with the exception of Ben Tate and Arian Foster on the Texans or possibly Michael Bush and Darren McFadden of the Raiders, Double Trouble is likely the strongest backfield duo in the NFL.
With that said, there are plenty of people out there saying that Carolina’s backfield has lost a step or two. And while it’s true that neither running back has eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in either of the past two seasons, I’m not ready to say that they’ve gone bust. In fact, they’re just the opposite.
Now that quarterback Cam Newton’s legs are in the mix, they might never attain the individual success they saw back in 2009, but they can become even more productive as a unit.
Take a closer look at last season’s numbers and you’ll see that the combination of Williams, Newtonand Stewart were third in the league in rushing and yards per game, while first in rushing touchdowns and rushing yards per attempt.
But maybe the most impressive statistic? Zero fumbles lost in 445 rushing attempts.
They were incredibly productive. They represented the first trio of players to rush for over 700 yards on the same team, and did so while averaging 5.4 yards per attempt. Just about the only thing you can hold against the Panthers’ ground game is that it wasn’t ranked first.
But how long will the groups’ success last?
They key is Stewart. The fourth-year back is considered by many to be a top-five running back talent, and he’s by far the most dynamic out of the backfield, adding on 413 receiving yards to the 761 yards he picked up on the ground.
And you can bet that once his contract expires after next season he won’t be sticking around to play second fiddle to Williams, who recently signed a five-year extension. So appreciate what the Panthers have in 2012, because we probably won’t be seeing it much longer.
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The question then becomes who replaces Stewart?
There’s Mike Goodson. The Texas A&M product showed a fair amount of success when he filled the back-up void left by Williams in 2010 after he went down with a foot injury, and even had some spot starts later in the season when Stewart was hurt.
But he missed all of last season when he went down with a hamstring injury, so we might need to see how he responds from that before relying too much on Goodson’s services.
We could address it in the draft, using a later-round pick to gather up some depth and, hopefully, develop someone into a solid number two back. But the 2012 draft is relatively weak at running back outside the first two rounds, and personally I’d rather see us retool our decimated defense.
No, the Panthers are set for now and in terrific shape for 2012. As for the ground game’s performance in 2011,they started off slow, but finished with nothing but high marks.
2011 Performance Grade: B+
They got out of the gate slow but carried offense the second half of the season.