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NFL Thursday Night; Saints vs Panthers

Two years ago the Panthers thought they secured one of the NFL’s top backfields. They ended up with an injury-riddled, cap-destroying mess instead. Photo by Chuck Burton/Associated Press

There was a time (mainly 2008 and 2009) when the Carolina Panthers owned the NFL’s most dynamic backfield. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined to rush for over 2,200 yards and score 20 touchdowns per season. Neither was older than 26. The future looked bright. Unfortunately for Carolina, that 2009 season was the last time either player rushed for more than 850 yards or scored more than seven touchdowns in a season. In fact, look at the total numbers for each player from 2008-2009 compared to their production since. The drop off is shocking:

Williams: 3,005 total yards. 27 TDs.
Stewart: 2,155 total yards. 21 TDs.

2010- Present
Williams: 3,599 total yards. 19 TDs.
Stewart: 3,066 total yards. 11 TDs.

Essentially, its taken both players four full seasons and nearly half of the current season to surpass the numbers they achieved over that two year stretch. The drop off in production can be attributed to both injury and depletion. Williams has missed 17 games over the past four and a half seasons. Stewart has been absent for 22. Stewart failed to average 4.0 yards per carry in each of the last two seasons and is on pace for his 3rd straight season of a sub 4 yard per carry average. Similarly, Williams last surpassed 4.3 yards per carry in 2011 after averaging more than 5 yards per carry in four of his first six seasons. Bottom line: Whether injury or depletion, neither has been as good or even close to as good as they were in 2008 or 2009.

Sadly, the on field production is only half the problem. Despite a drop in production and missing 10 games in 2010, Carolina offered Williams a 5 year, $43 million contract extension. One year later, the Panthers offered Stewart a 5 year, $36.5 million contract extension. While Stewart’s numbers were respectable in the two years prior to the contract extension, they did not warrant such a lofty extension. He hasn’t rushed for more than 340 yards in a season since signing the extension.

So next time you criticize Cam Newton, or blame the current front office for the lack of talent on the Panthers roster, take a look at the lopsided backfield. There you’ll find too much money and not enough production. And if you require further proof, here’s one more stat. Considering the investment in the backfield, 100 yard rushing performances should be the norm and not the exception, right? Wrong. Dating back to the 2011 season, the Panthers have played 56 regular season games. An individual player has surpassed 100 rushing yards five times. DeAngelo Williams did it three times. The other two? Cam Newton. That’s what many would call “a problem.” SAINTS If I were Charles Barkley; Saints -3 

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