Watching the past couple of Carolina Panthers games reminded me of a dog I had when growing up. When we were both young, that dog could run all day and play fetch with the best of them. But as the dog got older, I still enjoyed playing fetch, even though the dog took a little longer to get the ball and maybe needed a break a little more often. After a while, I realized that I couldn't play fetch the same way as we use to and needed to get a new dog that had the energy to go after the long throws. Coach Fox, as much as I hate to use a cliché in my articles, despite the way Stephen Davis has miraculously come back from possible career ending knee surgery, that dog won't hunt anymore and its time to let the young pups give it a try.
The Carolina Panthers, known throughout the league for their desire to develop a strong running game, is in the middle of the pack right now, just averaging 3.3 yards per carry. To give you a comparison, the Atlanta Falcons (you know, that other team that's in our division) is averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Granted, they do have the league's best running quarterback but when you combine that average with the fact that the Panthers are averaging less than 100 yards per game and the pieces start to come together about the state of the Panthers season.
The first place to look is obviously the running back position. Stephen Davis got the starting nod when he showed no ill effects from being out over a year and recovering from surgery. After four games, the Panthers are 2-2 (barely) and Davis is averaging a mere 3.2 yards per carry. He's ranked 22nd in overall yards in the league and near the bottom of those rushers that have at least 15 rushing attempts or more in a game.
What makes the situation worse is that Davis, who is known for having great field vision and being able to follow his blocks well, has noticeably lost a step. Take the last two games, for example. Anyone who was watching the game noticed that the front line defenders always seemed to be able to meet Davis at the point of the block. Now many would question the Panthers line play but the truth of the matter is that because Davis has lost a step due to injury/age/etc, by the time he reaches the block set by the offensive lineman or tries to reach the hole created by the offensive lineman, the defender has had time to adjust and seal the hole, thus nullifying any positive yard opportunities.
On the flip side, when the Panthers bring in running back DeShaun Foster, he's averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Granted Foster is only getting the ball around 8 times a game, but his ability to bust out a big play at any moment plus his shown ability to be a reliable receiving threat out of the backfield leads one to question why Foster isn't getting more opportunities to run with the ball. One can understand the loyalty factor that the Panthers may have with Davis, but looking into the future, do the Panthers really want to lay all of their golden eggs in a quickly ageing veteran when they could possibly have more success now with Foster? Granted Foster has shown that he can cough up the ball from time to time and he has already developed a history of injuries in his short time in the league, but he has also shown that he can carry the load for the team and provide that spark when necessary. If the Panthers still want to develop a running attack to set up the play action passes for Jake Delhomme, some serious changes need to be made or else the fans may as well be prepared for another long season of nail biting and disappointment.
Don't get me wrong. Davis is still an effective back. He has shown that he has a knack in short yardage situations to be able to find the end zone. He can still be effective inside the red zone. Davis can develop into the same type of successful back that Jerome Bettis has for Pittsburgh. But for the other 80 yards on the field, it may be time to hand the ball over to the younger dog and let him take it to the house.
Upon Further Review - Oct 10
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