When a man’s employment is at stake, he’ll do awful, desperate things that may or may not involve a long, dark alley. He’ll also eat TV dinners to save money and wash it down with a tall glass of fireball whiskey, because debt always comes full circle to a time when drinking cinnamon liquor was really cool.
When a GM is canned, the head coach can often follow. So after the Panthers fired Marty Hurney earlier this week, Ron Rivera began his deep, long walk into desperate times. For anyone who admits to supporting the current edition of the 1-5 Panthers, that means further Sunday frustration could follow. But for those who enjoy clarity in their fake backfields, Rivera’s new mindset could bring joy.
It’s only a hint for now, and little more, but we’ll take it. Most of Carolina’s losses have featured the typical dreadful time share between DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, with both running backs thriving at failing while unable to establish any rhythm whatsoever. But something wondrous happened this past Sunday against Dallas: Rivera made a decision, and rolled with one guy. Or at least mostly one guy, but hey, progress.
Rivera tried to change things up schematically this past week against the Dallas Cowboys, benching DeAngelo Williams and allowing Jonathan Stewart a shot as the workhorse running back. Normally the Panthers split carries, but on Sunday the plan was to use Stewart as the clear featured back.
The result of that plan was a complete lack of caring about the absurd amount of guaranteed money attached to Williams’ contract ($21 million). But there was still a sputtering failure by Stewart, who had only 35 yards on 10 carries, although that did include a 20-yard run. Right now, though, the initial backfire of a shift/experiment that should last for more than just one game means very little to you, since the establishing of a running rhythm requires patience.
What it does mean is that with another week on the horizon with a glut of top-end running backs on byes (Ray Rice, Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Arian Foster), Stewart just became far more appealing as a bye week fill-in, even with his crappy matchup against the Bears. That’s because if his workload continues to swing upwards into the 12-15 carry range, Stewart could easily post fine numbers. Monday night we saw what a fast but bulky running back can do against the Bears when Mikel Leshoure needed only 12 carries to finish with 63 yards (5.3 YPC).
Last year Stewart received 12 or more carries only three times, and in those games he averaged 65.6 rushing yards while scoring twice, and breaking off two runs for 25 yards or more. When he’s given the opportunity to continually beat and bruise a defense throughout a game, eventually that wall will crumble.
Maybe — just maybe — the Panthers will finally recognize that.