The basics in football sound boring: Blocking. Tackling. Running the ball. Stopping the run.
But those four principles represent the four corners of the game’s foundation, and without them the most creative play call in football history would still go nowhere.
For Carolina, this is important because the Panthers were terrible at the basics in a 37-19 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday night. They were outrushed by a ratio of more than 6 to 1, giving up 264 rushing yards, rushing for only 42 themselves.
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No NFL team can win like that. The Panthers (2-1) are in danger of being 3-6 by Halloween if this continues. They looked soft against Pittsburgh. And as several Panthers players admitted, the Steelers’ gameplan will be used as the blueprint to beat Carolina until the Panthers prove it doesn’t work.
In Baltimore, meanwhile, wide receiver Steve Smith has flourished with a team that prides itself on a bullying mentality. Those who know Smith know that he can be a bit of a bully, and he has embraced his new team’s personality.
As Smith said in a local TV interview over the summer of the Ravens’ attitude: “When I think of a Baltimore Raven – and I’m a Baltimore Raven – what I think of is we go in there, we take your lunch box, we take your sandwich, we take your juice box, we take your applesauce, and we take your spork and we break it. And we leave you with an empty lunch. That’s the Baltimore Raven way, that’s the bully way, and that’s football.”
The Steelers certainly bullied the Panthers on Sunday night. Offensive tackle Byron Bell was among those who believe the Panthers’ attitude has to improve if they are going to run the ball more like they did in 2013, when they averaged 126.6 yards rushing per game compared to 72.3 so far this season.
“We’re going to have to change our attitude,” Bell said. “Running the football ain’t nothing but attitude. We got to get the snot bubbles going. ... It’s all attitude. If we get our attitude up, we’ll be fine.”
Or, as former Ravens and current Panthers tight end Ed Dickson said: “The Ravens pride themselves on being bullies. ... We have to prepare to be hit in the mouth – and to hit them in the mouth. We’ve got to be the hammer, not the nail.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera is a tough guy, a former NFL linebacker who can’t stand for his defense to give up 264 yards rushing. He agreed that the attitude has to improve Sunday.
“Yes, it does,” Rivera said. “Against Pittsburgh, we didn’t run it very well, block it very well or stop it very well. No matter who we’re playing against, we’ve got to run it. We’ve got to hunker down and get it done. I think also part of it is we’ve got to call it a few more times.”
The Panthers only ran the ball 10 times against Pittsburgh, and two of those were unplanned scrambles from quarterback Cam Newton. The Panthers have played 307 regular-season games in team history, and the Pittsburgh game set a dubious record for Carolina’s fewest number of rushing attempts.
The Panthers will rush the ball more than 10 times against Baltimore. You can guarantee that.
But whether they get out of Maryland with their spork and their applesauce still intact – that is the question.