Carolina Panthers

Williams surprised by success of running game

CHARLOTTE -- Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams has almost as much confidence as speed.

But even he never imagined what the team is doing this year.

As good as the Panthers' running game has been (fourth in the league at 146.1 yards per game), Williams admitted last week he was originally thinking of being a complement for the team's passing game, not the other way around. The Panthers' offensive system remains based on running to set up the play-action pass (with quarterback Jake Delhomme looking downfield for receiver Steve Smith and inside for Muhsin Muhammad), but this season it's working the other way.

"We wanted to be productive back there," Williams said of his expectations for the year. "We just wanted to give Jake opportunities to throw the ball. And the passing game wanted to give us the opportunity. I think we complemented each other this year with the addition of Moose. And getting bigger on the offensive line, then those guys having an opportunity to be here and gel together.

"I anticipated we were going to be good, but I didn't anticipate that we were going to have the yards that we put up this year."

The Panthers are running so well they're about to break every significant team record, and that's beyond their wildest expectations as well.

Through 14 games, Williams has 224 carries for 1,229 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. Jonathan Stewart has added 158 carries for 751 yards and nine touchdowns. Together, they're the league's top tandem, with 1,980 yards.

The numbers are simply staggering.

They need just 47 yards over the final two games to break the 2003 record of 2,091 logged by the Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster-led bunch.

Williams himself would need 215 rushing yards to break Davis' single-season individual record (1,444 in 2003). His next touchdown allows him to surpass Muhammad's record 16 total touchdowns in a season (from 2004), and last week's 56-yard touchdown against Denver gave him a score in seven straight games, surpassing wide receiver Patrick Jeffers' old record of six straight weeks (in 1999).

He's also 91 yards away from becoming the franchise's second-leading rusher, surpassing Tshimanga Biakabutuka (2,530).

His junior partner is re-writing the book as well. Stewart needs just 58 yards to surpass Fred Lane's 809 rushing yards as a rookie (1997), and he's already clear of Lane's old rookie touchdown record of seven.

• MORE NEW LOOKS: While they might not line up in a 4-4-3 like Denver did a week ago, Delhomme said he's expecting anything from the Giants today.

Because N.Y. coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is a protégé of Philadelphia blitz-master Jim Johnson, Delhomme said he's going to have to have his head on a swivel tonight.

"When you watch them on film, they're Philadelphia," he explained. "Philadelphia lines up all over the place and coach Spagnuolo came from Philly and they play everything from man-to-man to every kind of zone. They bring corners, they bring safeties and they drop their D-linemen all over the place. And it's not just big guys they're dropping, it's like watching Julius (Peppers) dropping with (Justin) Tuck and (Mathias) Kiwanuka dropping. They are very athletic guys and they do a variety of things. They play a ton of different people and they come from everywhere."

• ROAD WARRIORS: The Panthers entered this season as an anomaly, better on the road than at home. They were 27-21 on the road in John Fox's first six years (.563), and just 24-24 (.500) at home. But they've turned that around with a sparking 8-0 mark at home this season, while going 3-3 on the road.

That leaves them 32-24 at Bank of America Stadium under Fox (.571) and 30-24 on the road (.556), a quick turnaround that leaves them more in line with what the league does at home, while continuing their still-better-than-most road work.

• EXTRA POINTS: The Panthers had to shelve their most dependable offensive lineman Saturday, putting guard Keydrick Vincent on injured reserve.

Vincent, the 30-year-old journeyman who had won a starting job and instant acclaim here because of his hard-nosed, physical style and his sense of humor, suffered a groin injury late in last week's win over Denver.

To replace him on the active roster, Carolina promoted defensive tackle Nick Hayden from the practice squad. He will provide another body up front in case nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu isn't able to go tonight. Kemoeatu has been bothered by an ankle injury suffered last week, and practiced on a limited basis Friday.

The Panthers will use either Jeremy Bridges or Geoff Hangartner at right guard tonight, and they will likely examine that position week-to-week. Bridges is the more physical inline blocker, while Hangartner is better in pass protection.

The team also left wide receiver Kenny Moore (hamstring) and defensive end Hilee Taylor (calf) home to receive treatment. ...

Team officials confirmed the expected last week: Panthers owner Jerry Richardson will not travel with his team this week. He actually surprised many of his employees by showing up for last week's home win over Denver.

Richardson's on the heart transplant waiting list, and while he's left the hospital, he is required to stay close in case a matching organ is found.

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