Droughns Pounds Panthers

My, have things changed.<br><br> The Panthers, who have prided themselves for 2 years in running the ball and stopping the run, can do neither. <br><br> John Fox's mantra is running the ball and stopping the run. Numerous times since he was hired in 2002, Fox has spoken about being able to run the ball and stop the run as the fundamentals that he would build upon. Now, they are lucky if they can hold a team to under 150 yards and gain 50 themselves.<br><br>

Offensively, it's a combination of a poor offensive line and injuries at running back. Stephen Davis has been recovering from injury for the last 4 weeks. Rod Smart hyper-extended his knee two weeks ago against Atlanta and the Panthers are lucky it wasn't more serious than it was. DeShaun Foster will miss at least the next 6 weeks with a broken clavicle suffered against the Broncos. "I was running to the left side and just fell down on it," Foster said. "I thought it was a stinger at first, but soon after I could feel that it wasn't."

In Denver, The only players available to run the ball were back-up Fullback Nick Goings and Starting Fullback Brad Hoover. It's not surprising that the Panthers were held to 64 yards rushing in the game with no playmakers available to run the ball. The offensive line has not opened holes all season for the running game. The Panthers are averaging 24.8 attempts per game, 3.6 yards per carry, and 88 yards rushing per game in 2004 – The lowest in Fox's tenure with the team.

The Panthers apparently can not stop the run either. The defense allowed Reuben Droughns to rush for 193 yards on 30 carries, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. They allowed Michael Vick, Warrick Dunn and TJ Duckett to rush for 174 yards on 36 carries, for an average of 4.8 yards per carry last week. In week one, Ahman Green and Tony Fisher ran for a combined 151 yards on 42 carries, averaging 3.6 yard per carry for Green Bay. "It was very shoddy," Coach Fox said of his run defense. "They averaged over six yards a carry. It's something we're going to have to work very hard on. Right now it's hard to point any fingers just because I have not seen the tape. Up until today I felt it was a matter of people running the ball a lot at us. I wasn't overly concerned. Today was a matter of feeling that giving up five yards was a great accomplishment. We have to get better than that."

Mike Minter, the elder statesman of the Panthers young secondary, was not pleased by the team's effort. "Any time someone is pounding the ball down your throat, it makes for a long day," Minter said. "A guy who has never started in this League runs for a hundred-and-something yards, that's just unacceptable and we have to do better than that."

In 4 games, the Panthers have only held one opponent under 100 yards rushing, ironically Priest Holmes, who still averaged 4.1 yards per carry on just 13 attempts in the Panthers only win of the season.

For the most part, the Panthers have stayed in the games this season. Jake Delhomme has played well despite missing stand-out Wide Receiver Steve Smith for most of the season, having a porous offensive line, and not having an unproductive running game. Delhomme continues to take a pounding on a bruised left shoulder, and it may be just a matter of time before the holes in the line knock him out of the lineup as well. With the running game as bad as it's been, Delhomme has had to throw more than the Panthers would like to, thus giving opponents more opportunities to unload on the Panthers' gritty QB that is the heart and soul of their offense. Always optimistic, Delhomme tried to shed another light on the situation after the game.

"Any loss is a bad loss," Delhomme told the press afterwards. "That kind of puts us in a tough position. They're a good football team, don't get me wrong, but they did a good job of keeping the ball away from us. It's frustrating because we know we have a decent team. There are a lot of games left, and hopefully I'm not saying the same thing over and over again." Delhomme completed 13 of 20 passes for 170 yards passing, 1 touchdown and no interceptions for a QB rating of 109.0. Delhomme added a rushing touchdown after a 101 yard interception by Julius Peppers came just short of the goal line. Peppers had strained a glut muscle a few plays before, and simply ran out of gas as he reached the goal line. "We got good pressure on the weak side," Peppers said. "I saw it the whole way and had a good break on it. I wasn't really worried about how far the goal line was. I guess I should have been. I was more worried about getting caught from behind. It was a long run, and I just gave out the last few steps."

Next up for the Panthers are the 4-0 Philadelphia Eagles, who have some unfinished business with the Panthers. Ironically, it's the Panthers who gave the Eagles their last loss, 14-3 in the 2003 NFC Championship game. The Eagles come into the game averaging 24 rushing attempts, 4.7 yards per carry, and 112 yards rushing per contest, and have had 2 weeks to prepare for Carolina, as the Eagles will be coming off their bye week as well.


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