Bowling ball, battering ram – there’s plenty of buzzwords to describe Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart’s physical style.
This week, the Panthers face another physical running back in the same mold as Stewart (who is 5-foot-10, 240 pounds) in Philadelphia’s LeGarrette Blount. Only, he’s even bigger than Stewart (6-foot and 250 pounds), and stifling him will be the key to grounding the entire Eagles offense. That task largely falls to Carolina’s linebacking corps – Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly, and Shaq Thompson – since the defensive line in the Panthers scheme is more likely to be occupied by blockers.
Like Stewart, Blount primarily runs between the tackles. That helps get the Eagles into third-and-short situations, which opens up the entire offensive playbook and makes things difficult for any defense.
“It’s been a huge challenge for a bunch of other teams on film, tackling Blount,” Davis said. “He’s not going down on the first contact, so whenever you have a back like that, you have to rally as a football team and as a defense to the ball and making sure you’re gang-tackling that guy.”
Doing that effectively could keep the Eagles in third-and-long situations and force Carson Wentz to beat the Panthers with his arm.
“If you can make these guys one dimensional, it might be a good thing,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “Having said that, last week it was 21-0 before the quarter was done, so be careful what you wish for.”
Blount has rushed 56 times for 323 yards and a touchdown this season. His average of 5.8 yards per rush means defenses have to focus on him.
And while Blount’s physicality inside makes him a threat every time he touches the ball, it also makes him a focal point every time he appears to touch the ball. The Eagles have great success faking the ball to Blount and letting second-year quarterback Carson Wentz throw play-action passes instead.
The Panthers have the NFL’s third-best run defense, and if they can maintain that against Blount it means they have disrupted a good part of what the Eagles do offensively.
That’s easier said than done, but Davis has taken down biger runners before, and he has every intention of doing so again.
“You fit up, you do your job, and make good solid contact,” Davis said. “You can take anybody down in this league.”