Panthers once vaunted run game has gone missing

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - A year ago, Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart had a catchy nickname, a new website and became the first teammates in NFL history to each rush for over 1,100 yards.

This year, there’s little to celebrate. The Panthers are 1-5, both are struggling and now Williams is hurt, too.

Double Trouble has become troubled.

Williams, who missed practice for the second straight day Thursday with a sore foot, has managed 361 yards on 87 carries with one touchdown. Stewart has fared even worse with just 148 yards on 50 carries and one score.

Last season, they each averaged over 5 yards a carry, combining for 2,250 yards and 17 touchdowns for the league’s third-best rushing attack.

This year there’s been little talk of website subscriptions and Double Trouble T-shirts.

“Instead of building up frustration,” Stewart said, “you’ve got to believe in the guys in front of us, that eventually things will start opening up the way they are supposed to.”

There are plenty of reasons why neither player has looked explosive.

The run game has been bogged down by eight-man fronts, a struggling and banged up offensive line, a new fullback learning on the job and a passing game that has featured horrible quarterback play and failed to earn the respect of opponents.

And now the Panthers face the prospect of not having Williams, a 2009 Pro Bowl selection, for Sunday’s game at St. Louis. Williams has not talked to reporters this week.

That would leave Stewart and Mike Goodson in the backfield against the Rams.

“Eventually, if you keep pounding, keep pounding, it will open,” Stewart insisted. “Keep knocking on the door and eventually it will open up.”

But even in Carolina’s first victory of the season last Sunday against San Francisco, the running game played a minimal role. Williams had 44 yards on 19 carries and lost a fumble before hobbling off in the final minute. Stewart had 29 yards on 14 carries.

It’s left the Panthers with the NFL’s 23rd-ranked rushing offense, and neither Williams nor Stewart has a 100-yard game.

“This game is a lot easier when the opponent is one dimensional,” coach John Fox said.

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