Carolina coach Ron Rivera has changed his philosophy on the teams running game, switching from the once-successful Double Trouble rotation of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to a search for a hot hand.
Starting with last Sundays 19-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Stewart has become the teams featured power back, and Williams, who has started all but four of the games in which he has played with Carolina, played five snaps and got two carries.
This week, against Chicago at 1 p.m. Sunday, Stewart will start again.
Without talking about what we want to do, we want to do what these guys are capable of and comfortable with, Rivera said. There are some things you can do that these guys do well, and there are things they can do better.
We have to find those things and make sure were using them.
The two backs make a lot of money their contracts are worth a combined $79.5 million but have 319 yards on the ground this season. That has Rivera, and the Panthers, trying to adjust to the teams strengths in the running game.
The Observer analyzed every Panthers running play this season, revealing this snapshot of how the team has utilized its backs:
• The Panthers most successful rushing plays have been broken plays that quarterback Cam Newton has turned into positives. Newtons 13 scrambles through six games have resulted in gains of 108 yards, an average of 8.3 yards per attempt. But scrambles imply receivers inability to get open on a passing play or Newtons ability to find a target. And Newton has been sacked 15 times for 102 yards in losses.
• Of planned running plays, the zone-read has been used most often, on 80 of the 148 rushing attempts (54 percent). The zone-read involves Newton sticking the ball in the running backs stomach and either giving it to him or taking it back. When he takes the ball back, he can either run himself or pitching it, based on his read of the defense.
• The zone-read has also been the teams most effective rushing play, accounting for 407 of the teams 682 rushing yards (59.7 percent).
• Of those zone-read yards, 319 have come from runs by Newton or the running back in the zone-read action. The other 88 came on six option pitches, when Newton pulls the ball from the running backs grasp and pulls left or right, then pitches the ball.
• Who is the most effective on zone-read plays? Newton, who averages 5.8 yards per zone-read carry, DeAngelo Williams averages 5.0 yards on those plays, and Jonathan Stewart gains 4.0 yards.
• The statistics support using Stewart more often than Williams on traditional handoffs. Stewart averages 5.7 yards per carry on traditional handoffs, with Newton starting under center. Williams has 30 yards on 18 carries on that type of play, a 1.67-yard average.
• Both Williams carries Sunday against Dallas were on traditional handoffs. They gained 4 yards. Williams played only five of the 62 offensive snaps against Dallas. Rivera acknowledged Friday the team would like to use both backs for longer periods rather than in rotation, but with more balance.
Rivera said the philosophy change would take time.
I do know there are some things we want to do different, Rivera said. Its not one of those things you come in and dump all at once. Itll be a progression of well work this, well work this, well work this as opposed to a bam, its all there. To me, its a process of putting things in and seeing whats working.
The adjustments have been met with some disagreement, including from Williams. Rivera called it an opportunity for the backs, but fullback Mike Tolbert said the changes havent come easily.
(We are) just being pros about it, Tolbert said. Its not necessarily something that were all in agreeance with, but at the same time we know its whats best for the team and whats best for us to move ahead in the game and win.
Were ready to take the challenge.