There's no question the NFL is morphing into a passing league. Ten quarterbacks threw for over 4,000 yards last season. But in order to find success in the NFL, teams need to strike a balance between an attacking arial assault and an effective running game. There are only a few teams in the NFL that have an elite quarterback to go along with a pounding backfield.
Some highly talented tandem backfields include the Houston Texans (Arian Foster and Ben Tate), the New Orleans Saints (Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas), and the Buffalo Bills (Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller). Other teams have duo's that could emerge as top-threats, such as the Chicago Bears with Matt Forte and Michael Bush, the Arizona Cardinals with Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, or the Kansas City Chiefs with Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis.
But with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, the Carolina Panthers have, arguably, the most explosive, talented running back set in the NFL. Carolina seems to recognize this and pulled out all stops to keep the duo from being divorced.
Prior to the start of last season, the Panthers made a curious move to keep the tandem together. Carolina shelled out a 5-year, $43 million contract to keep Williams in a Panthers' jersey. Stewart got nothing.
This offseason Carolina brought in Mike Tolbert from the San Diego Chargers. Following Tolbert's signing, speculation began flying out of the rumor mill that the Panthers would surely move Stewart. Everyone within the organization tried to put those reports to rest.
Even Stewart himself was insisting that no trade would occur, and that he wanted to stay in Carolina.
With the trade rumors tucked tightly in bed, and training camp well under way, Carolina is set to deploy a thundering run game.
Both Williams and Stewart averaged 5.4 yards per carry. And quarterback Cam Newton forces defenses to lock in on him as a ball carrier, as well. Newton averaged 5.6 yards per carry on 126 attempts. The Carolina wildcat formation is as real as it gets.
As if the ground game wasn't electrifying enough, the Panthers added Tolbert. The 5'9" 243-pound wrecking ball scored 15 touchdowns on 37 attempts inside the 5-yard line with the San Diego Chargers. Once Carolina gets in the red zone, they will not lack options for punching it across the goal line.
Panthers brass has been excellent at carving out roles for each one of their ball carriers. First and foremost, Williams and Stewart are just about in a deadlock when it comes to time on the field. In 2011, Stewart played on 55.2% of the offensive snaps, but Williams edged out Stewart in carries with 155 carries for Williams and 142 for his counterpart.
And while Williams only saw 2 carries inside the opponent's 5-yard line compared to Stewart's 10, Williams scored more rushing touchdowns (7) than Stewart (4). It's almost impossible for defenses to predict Carolina's rushing strategy.
To start training camp, Williams opened as the starter. After all, he's the one carrying around that monster contract. Once the regular season starts, however, Panther fans can expect to see an equal dose of both backs.
With Stewart entering a contract year, however, this may be the last season that Carolina fans see Stewart in a Panters' uniform. It's doubtful that the Panthers will be able to secure Stewart to a long-term contract that he will undoubtably seek following this season. He would accept no less than what Carolina dished out to Williams.
But until that time, Williams, Stewart, Newton and now Tolbert will try to run opposing defenses into the ground, and in the process, run the Panthers into the NFL Playoffs.