The Carolina Panthers should not deviate much from what has gotten them and that is to rely on their run game against the Tennessee Titans. The Panthers have the number one rushing offense averaging 142 yards per game and while the Titans have the sixth ranked defense in total yards against per game (329), they rank 17th against the run and are giving up an average of 111 yards per game.
After a slow start to the season, Stewart has become a key part of the Panthers offense the past four weeks. During the first four games, Stewart averaged only 14.75 carries per game and 55 rushing yards and had no touchdowns. The last four games though he has carried the ball 22 times, averaged 87.75 yards per game and has three total touchdowns.
The Panthers' featured running back has been limited in practice this week due to a lingering ankle injury however head coach Ron Rivera said on Thursday that he would be fine. I wouldn't expect the injury to limit Stewart against the Titans and should once again be close to 20 carries.
Michael Oher/Amini Silatolu
If the Panthers want to control the game on the ground, they are going to have to win the battle in the trenches and the saying "You are only as strong as your weakest link" applies to the Panthers' offensive line.
The left side of the offensive line has to be a concern as they are expected to be without starting left guard Andrew Norwell for the second consecutive week and Michael Oher continues to struggle at left tackle. The Panthers' left tackle has really struggled in run blocking and is currently the worst in the NFL at the postion with a rating of -18.8, according to Pro Football Focus.
Last week, Amini Silatolu had a strong game replacing Norwell against the Packers but this week he, along with Oher, are going to have the tall task of containing Jurrell Casey. The Titans' defensive lineman is one of the more under-rated players in the NFL and is the seventh best 3-4 defensive end in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus and second at the postion in stops (48). If the left side of the Panthers' offensive line can find a way to contain Casey, it should make Stewart's job much easier running the ball.
The Panthers' quarterback is coming off a four touchdown performance against the Green Bay Packers and earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts. Cam Newton is having an incredible season and been a perfect example of a dual-threat quarterback. He has been able to use his legs to keep defenses off-balance and has helped to open things up down the field.
Newton has averaged 42.9 rushing yards per game, which may not seem like a lot, but when he is picking up the yards is key to this offense. The Panthers' quarterback is tied for sixth in the NFL with rushing first downs (27) and the offense as a whole leads the NFL in rushing first downs (65). There may not be a better weapon in the NFL today in short yardage situations than Cam Newton.
The Titans have the third best pass defense and this means Newton may need to rely more on his feet than trying to beat this defense with his arm. It would not be surprising to see Newton have a season-high in rushing attempts this week.