The Carolina Panthers running backs have not had a great first part to the 2015 season and it starts with Jonathan Stewart. With the departure of DeAngelo Williams this offseason, the team turned the keys over to the offense’s run game to Stewart and he hasn’t responded well.
After a strong finish to the 2014 season, where Stewart was one of the best running backs in the league, this shouldn’t have been a concern for the coaching staff. However, he has struggled to find the running room necessary to get into a rhythm.
One thing that is clear is that Ron Rivera is going to give Stewart plenty of opportunities to break out. Through the first two games, Stewart has 35 attempts while Mike Tolbert and Fozzy Whittaker combined only have run the ball nine times.
If there was ever a game for Stewart to break out, it would be this one. The New Orleans Saints defense ranks 24th against the run and have given up an average of 129.5 rushing yards per game. The offense could really use a break out game from the team’s featured running back in Week 3.
The Panthers have tried to ease Kevin Norwood into their game plan in the early stages of the season but there is no better game for him to break out than this one. He was acquired from the Seattle Seahawks shortly before the regular season and now that there is questions about Jerricho Cotchery’s availability Sunday due to a high ankle sprain. This would be a great game for Norwood to see significant playing time.
Norwood was inactive for Week 1 but saw time against the Houston Texans last week. However, the one opportunity he had to make a play, he let it slip through his hands. On that play, Newton’s arm was hit and the ball came out a little wobbly. After going through Norwood’s hands, the pass was intercepted by the Texans.
The Panthers’ wide receivers as a whole have struggled, especially with dropped passes. While he did have the dropped pass last week, this is not typical of him as he has pretty good hands. Kevin Norwood is a big, young wide receiver that could be the missing piece in this passing attack.
The Panthers offensive line has looked vastly improved from a season ago but continue to lack quality play at left tackle. The team had Byron Bell at the position last year but decided to replace him with Michael Oher.
The move made sense on paper as Oher has experience playing both tackle positions and has been a starter on a Super Bowl team while with the Baltimore Ravens. Unfortunately at this point in the season, the move seems to be a lateral one.
Pro Football Focus currently has Michael Oher rated as the fifth worst left tackle in the NFL. In the first two games he has given up two sacks and four QB hurries. If the Panthers could get a stronger game from Oher, this will help give Cam Newton the time in the pocket to make the plays needed to move this offense.
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