The Carolina Panthers are 2-0 since trading Kelvin Benjamin, and their running game has been a big reason why. The Panthers have rushed 74 times for 495 yards (247.5 yards per game) and four touchdowns over the last two weeks, this after averaging fewer than 100 rushing yards per game through their first eight games of the season.
Cam Newton, in particular, has come alive. He’s rushed 14 times for 181 yards (12.9 yards per carry) and a score in his last two games, this after rushing 60 times for 255 yards (4.3 yards per carry) in his first eight games.
Why is the Carolina running game suddenly so dominant without Benjamin?
“I think it’s an addition by subtraction because you open up the offense and you let it breathe,” WFNZ host and former Panthers lineman Frank Garcia said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “I don’t think it had anything to do with Cam forcing the ball to him. I just think it was the way defenses were playing this offense. You literally have two or three tight ends out there on the field with a guy like Kelvin Benjamin. He just doesn’t have the speed to open up.”
Devin Funchess, Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, however, do. That trio combined for 13 catches for 164 yards and three touchdowns in the Panthers’ 45-21 win over Miami on Monday. Their production – and speed – opened up space for the ground game. Jonathan Stewart rushed 17 times for 110 yards, while Cameron Artis-Payne rushed seven times for 68 yards and a score.
And then, of course, there was Newton, who reeled off a 69-yard run.
“There’s a lot of ways to create space on a football field; some of it’s laterally, and some of it’s vertically,” Garcia said. “Some of the things that they were trying to do to use Kelvin Benjamin, he just wasn’t getting the spacing that was necessary to drive those safeties and tacklers out of the box. Now they have speed. (They have) guys that can spread it out and space it out so it allows the offense to breathe a little bit and open up some running lanes.”
Carolina (7-3), which has a bye this week, will play the Jets (4-6) in East Rutherford on Nov. 26. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. ET.