The Carolina Panthers' running game hasn't yet hit full stride. If that's frustrating to coach John Fox – who wants an offense that's headlined by a bruising rushing attack – he's not showing it. Nor does he plan on making a change in the starting lineup.
Starter DeAngelo Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart have combined for 398 yards in the team's first four games. Williams has 201 yards on 55 attempts; Stewart has rushed for 197 on 45. As a team, the Panthers average 102.5 yards rushing, 19th in the NFL.
Williams, who averages 3.7 yards per carry, continues to start, with Stewart (4.4 per carry) coming in later.
“What people need to realize, the defense dictates that,” Fox said Thursday. “There's a little more to inside the game than meets the regular-person's eye.”
Williams and Stewart have differing styles. Williams relies on speed and quickness, while Stewart is a more bruising runner.
“We try to establish the run and most people who play us know that,” Fox said. “We've seen similar philosophies in who we've played against. It's a game within the game. But we're not disappointed in our running game.”
Smith surprised Lucas with ball
Another example of how solid the healing process has been between receiver Steve Smith and cornerback Ken Lucas happened during last week's 24-9 victory against Atlanta.
After Smith caught a 56-yard touchdown pass – his first of the season – he handed the ball to Lucas, whom he punched in training camp. It actually wasn't that easy, because Smith had to retrieve the ball from a fan in the stands when it bounced there after he spiked it.
“I just asked for the ball back,” Smith said. “He didn't have to give it to me. If he contacts the Panthers, I'll do something nice for him. I didn't know the ball went into the stands. When I spiked it, I didn't know it went up, so when I looked over and looked for the ball on the ground, it wasn't there.”
Smith said he had planned all along to give the ball to Lucas.
“Yeah, nobody knew about it,” he said. “My wife knew about it. But Luke didn't know and nobody knew about it. A lot of the guys on the team didn't even know it happened. Luke didn't know it was coming because he was getting ready to go on the field. I caught him kind of in midstream when he was walking the opposite way.”
Kansas City, Carolina's next opponent, leads the league in forced fumbles with seven.
“I've been thinking about that a lot,” said Smith. “I've been seeing a lot of guys who may cough up the ball – seeing (previous Chiefs opponents like Denver's Eddie) Royal, (Oakland's Darren) McFadden, (Atlanta's) Roddy White and Michael Turner, just to name a few.”
Tight end Jeff King was the Panthers' next option to play offensive tackle as injuries piled up against the Falcons.
“If it had come to that, I know what to do,” said King. “I don't think we would have done anything crazy as far as play calling. … There was a possibility that it could happen. But I don't do the math during the game.”
The Chiefs returned 325 tickets to the Panthers for the game, which is otherwise sold out. They're available at TicketMaster locations.