Gregg Easterbrook argued last week that in terms of play-calling, coaching is overrated in football. There may be some truth to that, insofar as fans' complaints often revolve around a lack of creativity and flair, when execution is more important. But the Carolina Panthers have been a perfect counterexample to Easterbrook's theory. At 3-4, they could have two or three more wins if they would just take the game out of Jake Delhomme's hands and run the football twice as much as they do now. If you take a look at their results this year, runs have outnumbered passes in just three out of seven games, all of which have been wins. They've lost each of the four games where they've thrown more than they've run. When DeAngelo Williams gets more carries than Delhomme does passes, the Panthers average a ten-point win.
Some of the disparity is caused by the Panthers falling behind early in some games, but that's not a sufficient excuse. For example, in the Atlanta loss, in which passes outnumbered runs by 17, the Falcons were up by more than one score for less than six minutes the entire game. A week later in Dallas, the Panthers were down by more one possession for only the final five minutes (and the score that made it a two-score game came on a Delhomme pick). Despite that, Delhomme had three times as many throws as Williams did runs, and 20 more passes than runs were called. If it's a one-possession game and you have the Panthers offense, unless there's less than two minutes left in the game or one of the corners is playing on a broken hip, you should be running more than passing.
In contrast, today's win was the perfect blueprint for the Panther's offense: a heavy dose of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart (almost 75 percent of the offense was on the ground), complemented by a big play here and there from Steve Smith. And look what happened: a big upset and a rather dominating win on the road against the NFC champ. (Of course, the five picks from Warner helped.) Keep it up, John Fox! I'm not even a Panther fan (although I have Williams on my fantasy team), I just can't bear to watch such avoidable self-sabotage.
Unfortunately, Fox saw the light too slowly: the Panthers have a miserable final nine games: the Saints twice, all of the AFC east minus Buffalo, plus the Bucs, Falcons, Giants, and Vikings. They'll be lucky to be favored twice more this year.