Max Henson Staff Writer
CHARLOTTE – When offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has checked on the health of running back Jonathan Stewart, he hasn’t been sure what to expect.
“I’ve asked at different times what percent is he,” Chudzinski said, “and it’s been a broad range.”
“He’s doing the best he can with it.”
Stewart has been battling an ankle injury all season. He first suffered the injury in the third game of the preseason against the New York Jets and was held out of Week 1 and Week 3 of the regular season.
The Panthers’ starting running back suffered a high ankle sprain on the other ankle in Monday’s victory over the Philadelphia Eagles and is considered “day-to-day” leading into Week 13 at Kansas City.
With Stewart operating as the lead back, Carolina has worked to establish a traditional power running game, but his injury may cause Chudzinski to alter the approach.
“We’ll design the plan and go from there based on where Jonathan is health wise,” Chudzinski said. “With DeAngelo (Williams), Stew or Mike Tolbert, you might feature things a little bit differently.”
But regardless of the ball-carrier, Chudzinski knows the Panthers must strive to create more room to run.
“The biggest thing that we have to do is a better job of blocking,” Chudzinski said. “I want to be more effective in the run game. We’re getting some, and I think we’re making progress there, but we need to keep getting better.”
NEWTON’S PROGRESS: Cam Newton produced an effective, complete performance against the Eagles, and Chudzinski has been encouraged by the second-year quarterback’s resolve during a challenging season.
“He’s responded well to the adversity that he’s faced. A guy that’s a young quarterback, second year in the league, is going to have some ups and downs,” Chudzinski said.
“It’s not always going to be perfect. There’s going to be some times where we struggle and (it’s about) how you react to that and bounce back from that. That’s the thing I think Cam has done a great job of.”
When asked where he needs to improve after Monday’s win, Newton expressed his desire to be more consistent. Chudzinski is determined to help establish that consistency.
“Consistency is the thing that you’re striving for,” Chudzinski said. “You want to see that consistency, and I know Cam is working on being consistent in all aspects of his game.”
FOCUS ON RUN DEFENSE: The Carolina defense struggled to contain Eagles running back Bryce Brown – who ran for 178 yards – but it came up with momentum-swinging plays on several occasions.
“We did some good things, made some big plays at key moments of the game,” defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. “The forced fumbles and fourth down stop come to mind.”
But with the Chiefs’ fourth-ranked rushing attack next on the schedule, McDermott hopes to see an improved effort against the run.
“We need to work on run fundamentals,” McDermott said. “(Running back) Jamaal Charles is an explosive runner, and we’ll have our hands full. We need to get back to playing good, sound run defense.”
AGGRESSIVE ARMANTI: Kick returner Armanti Edwards returned five kicks for a 22.8-yard average Monday, and head coach Ron Rivera was pleased with his decisive approach.
“Very aggressive, very good to see,” Rivera said. “We’re pretty excited about what he’s been doing.”
Edwards’ longest return was for 35 yards, and it was close to being much longer.
“He was probably a block away,” Rivera said. “If we can get Armanti past that first crease and get to the second level, with his long speed – once he builds it up and gets it going – there’s a good chance that he can go the distance.”