Carolina Panthers

Panthers love to get physical near goal line

Jonathan Stewart was the beneficiary of some powerful blocking Monday in the Panthers' win over the Buccaneers.
Jonathan Stewart was the beneficiary of some powerful blocking Monday in the Panthers' win over the Buccaneers.

CHARLOTTE -- Get close to the end zone, and some teams get cute.

The Carolina Panthers get heavy.

There was no better example than last week of what the Panthers want their offensive personality to be, and it might have been summed up in one play. Just before halftime of their eventual win over Tampa Bay, the Panthers drove to the Bucs' 2-yard line. Though they had the two-minute warning to think about it, there was no question about what they intended to do.

They called for their "Jumbo" package, and it did what it did best.

"It's kind of an attitude personnel, and an attitude play," tight end Jeff King said. "It's where we say we're going to run it right at you."

They did, and Jonathan Stewart (or anyone really could have) walked in untouched for a score moments later, picking up a pair of the team's 299 rushing yards.

"Jumbo" works on a simple equation, the old reliable force-equals-mass-times-acceleration number. The acceleration is really all that's up to Stewart, because what's in front of him represents the mass.

To get into the personnel grouping, all the receivers leave the premises. There's no room for a little guy, even if he's Steve Smith. In their place come two tight ends (King and Dante Rosario), fullback Brad Hoover and extra blocker Geoff Hangartner.

To put it simply, that's 2,378 pounds on the eight-man front line, with Hoover hurtling his 245 into whatever's left.

"When you're down there," left guard Travelle Wharton said. "You've got to have that extra momentum."

Delhomme, who's merely present to hand off and get out of the way, breaks into a broad grin when asked about it. It's his second-favorite, behind only the Diamond formation from which he takes knees at the end of the game.

"We're bringing in our big guys and we're going to run it," Delhomme said. "Knock on wood, we have had success doing that. We have had a ton of 1- and 2-yard runs and I think that's awesome. Because when you can do that, it's a good feeling."

Delhomme said he much prefers to hand off, as he did to Stewart on that one play, than throw any pass. That makes him a perfect philosophical fit for this offense. The Panthers have scored 23 rushing touchdowns this year, and six were from the 1-yard line. Eleven have come from the 5 or closer. Contrast that to their 13 touchdown passes, of which only two came from inside the 10, and one of those was to running back DeAngelo Williams.

King laughed when asked about the predictability of the set, saying: "They could pretty much call it out what it's going to be."

But it's built for power, not surprise. Delhomme referred to such closed-space power running as "body blows" on opposing defenses, which pay off later in the game.

Center Ryan Kalil, who other than the tight ends is the little one of the bunch, said that running in any fashion is about mindset, but particularly when they load up. Asked when he can see the defense wearing out, as Delhomme explained, he said it's a matter of the plays they call.

"When you keep calling the same plays and they're successful," Kalil said plainly. "When you're pounding the rock and running it at them, they're tired, you're tired but you're still able to out-physical them and out-condition them in that sense.

"It obviously speaks for itself."

Stewart's run looked simple, but a re-examination shows the sheer strength with which they ran. The play, which went off right tackle, was a train wreck of brute force.

First, right guard Keydrick Vincent stood up Tampa defensive tackle Ryan Sims, rendering him useless. Then right tackle Jeff Otah cleared the lane, plowing linebacker Quincy Black about 5 yards deep into the end zone, moving ahead with such size and speed that linebackers Barrett Ruud and Derrick Brooks were screened off, unable to get into the hole before Stewart dashed past. On the other side, King sealed defensive end Gaines Adams, and that left the canyon for Stewart to walk through. Hoover was there to clean up what might have remained, but the hole was so big he didn't even need to hit anybody on that play.

"It's a perfect-case scenario," Hoover said of the way that one came together. "You have an opportunity to score, it's will-on-will, it's whoever's going to impose it on each other.

"That's why we try to get in that personnel and move it into the end zone, when there's nothing really special about it. You just line up and here we go."

Granted, there are variations they can employ. Theoretically, they could throw it, as Delhomme said he has several options out of each play call if he sees an opening. With King and Rosario side-by-side, the chance of one running a fall-down screen or peeling off into the flat is good. Or, they could get tricky.

There is, after all, Hangartner on the other side, after he reports in as an eligible receiver.

"It's great," Hangartner said of the personnel group. "Plus, they really want to get our best receiving threats on the field. That's really why we go to it."

Delhomme swears he has confidence in throwing it to his backup center if need be -- "Oh absolutely, he's no Todd Fordham," Delhomme laughed, referring to the former backup tackle who once tipped a ball to himself three times before being drilled for a 2-yard loss in Buffalo in 2005.

"I'll tell you this, if Jake ever throws it to me, it's because all four other options are covered," Hangartner said. "If all those other guys are covered or blocking, he might throw it to me, but that's only if he can't run it in himself.

"If he threw it to me I'd definitely catch it. If I catch it and I score a touchdown, I'll probably get fined, because I'm going to try to throw it as far as I can in the stands."

As he said this, Wharton was listening in, and shaking his head.

Even Hangartner knows there's no desire to look his way in that situation.

"That's the attitude we want to have around here," he said. "We don't want to throw it from the 3-yard line. We want to get in the big package and run it in."

Good when they're close

The Panthers' red-zone offense is one of the league's best, or at least most efficient. They don't make as many trips as others, but they make the most of them. Here's a look at how they do inside the 20:

Category

No.RankPossessions4016thPoints scored 21211th

Touchdowns259thTD percentage62.55thScores3714thPercentage92.54th

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