Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams has rushed for more than 50 yards in a game once since late September. And the Panthers’ all-time leading rusher is on pace for his fourth consecutive sub-1,000-yard season.
But Williams, who wasn’t very subtle about his displeasure with not getting many touches a year ago, was all smiles Thursday when confronted with those figures.
“Were we winning?” Williams asked about last season with a laugh. “That is the difference – as long as we’re winning. And I’ve always said that. But when we’re not winning, and we’re not doing some of the things that I feel like can help us win, then there’s an issue.”
Williams rushed twice for 4 yards against Dallas in Week 7 of the 2012 season, when he was benched in favor of Jonathan Stewart. The Panthers were 1-5, and Williams didn’t do a good job of hiding his frustrations on Twitter and with the media.
His grievances with former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who left for the head coaching job in Cleveland this offseason, are well documented. But Williams said his frustrations a year ago were more about losing than a lack of touches.
With the Panthers (9-3) riding an eight-game winning streak and making a playoff push, Williams isn’t complaining now.
“It’s not about the numbers with me,” said Williams, who’s listed as probable for Sunday’s game at New Orleans with a quadriceps injury. “If I can get out there and chip block a guy, if I can pick up a blitz, if I can catch a ball downfield and put our team in a better situation on second and third down, I think people lose sight of that because of fantasy football and things of that nature.”
Williams was off to the best start of his career through three games this season, running for 291 yards, but the Panthers were 1-2. Since then he’s gained 319 yards on 88 carries in eight games, for an average of just less than 40 yards per game.
Ron Rivera has expressed some concern with the lack of production from his backs in recent weeks, but he points to teams adjusting to stop Carolina’s rushing attack as one reason why numbers are down. Both Rivera and offensive coordinator Mike Shula have said they don’t want quarterback Cam Newton to be the team’s leading rusher like he was last year, but Newton has led the team on the ground each of the past three weeks, gaining a total of 181 yards.
“We see a lot more eight-man fronts and man (coverage). We see a lot more people basically trying to work against our run, stop our run and force our quarterback’s hand,” Rivera said. “It’s kind of worked in one phase of it that our quarterback’s thrown the ball well, he’s made plays when he’s had to. And I think because of that our regular running game isn’t as efficient. I think it has an opportunity to turn around. I’m not sure when; I know we’re going to continue to work it and try to do some things to help our guys.”
Said Williams: “We’re playing the ultimate team game here. We just try to make the most of our opportunities, because we know if we don’t, the next guy will.”
Williams took advantage of a weak Saints defense in the 2012 season finale in the Superdome, rushing 21 times for a franchise-record 210 yards.
After that game, there were questions about whether Williams would stay with Carolina. He said he was never concerned about leaving Charlotte.
“The reason it didn’t bother me is because it wasn’t, ‘Is this your last year playing football?’ It was just a matter of where you’re going to play football,” Williams said. “It never dawned on me that you feel bad or you should feel sorry. It wasn’t a career threat or anything. I never thought about it.”
Of Williams’ six best rushing games, three have come in New Orleans. He totaled 178 yards in the 2008 meeting and 149 yards in 2009. Add in a 175-yard performance during his sophomore year at Memphis against Tulane and Williams has four 100-plus-yard games in the Superdome.
But Williams can’t necessarily put a finger in that season finale a year ago. But he wouldn’t mind if he duplicated it this week.
“We won and that’s what it took to win that game,” Williams said. “We came out and we did it. Each game takes on its own form. Sometimes we need to throw the ball 50 times. Sometimes we need to run the ball 50 times.
“Whatever it takes to get the job done is what I think Shula is doing a great job of doing. No disrespect to that other guy.”
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9