The plan was to ease Clausen in to the league with a run-heavy offense, like usual, led by Pro Bowlers DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Both Williams and Stewart eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground in the 2009 season, teaming up to create the league's best rush attack (18 combined touchdowns between the two).
Despite the porous 4-7 record with Delhomme as the starter, Carolina made a late run--won four of the last five games--and was looking good heading in to 2010.
Unfortunately for head coach John Fox, in his ninth season at the helm for the Panthers, the injury bug hit the Carolina run game, and the quarterback position as well.
Williams has been ruled out for the rest of the season (foot) after just 361 yards and a touchdown in six games. Stewart has played in ten of the Panthers' 12 games, but his performance has obviously been effected by a the concussion he suffered early on in the season. Stewart appears to be healthy again, though, as he ran for 98 and 92 yards in consecutive weeks now.
While Williams and Stewart sat, second-year back Mike Goodson stepped in and done well, recording back-to-back 100-yard games against tough opponents: Tampa Bay and Baltimore. Both were career-highs at the time.
It's a good thing Stewart seems to be at full health, because Goodson has reportedly sprained his AC joint in Carolina's 11th loss of the season (against Seattle) this past Sunday. Goodson says he'll be fine, but either way it's surely to affect his overall play.
It's likely that, at the quarterback position, rookie Jimmy Clausen will make his third consecutive start this Sunday against NFC South rival Atlanta, whom happens to be one of the top teams in the league. Clausen began the season on the bench, with Matt Moore--last year's quarterback when Delhomme wasn't under center--taking the starting position. Clausen made a couple in September and October after Moore was benched, but Clausen was later demoted again (poor play). Moore suffered a shoulder injury in a week nine loss to New Orleans and was shortly after placed on the injured reserve.
Clausen has just one touchdown this season, compared to his six interceptions, so don't expect anything spectacular this weekend. Especially against these Atlanta Falcons.
Carolina is, by far, the lowest-scoring offense this season, with just 154 points scored and has allowed the seventh-most points on defense (307).
With six defensive players on this week's injury report, it seems like that is one of the few things stopping Fox's defense from winning a few more games. When it comes to total yards, Carolina is a middle-of-the pack kind of defense with the one thing they've struggled at this season is stopping the run. The two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason has had a bit of an off-year in 2010, but still provides Carolina's young defense with the leadership it needs.
NFL Network's Albert Breer answered my question on Carolina's 2010 struggles very well in today's live chat on NFL.com. In his opinion, the lack of a rushing attack, and John Fox himself, are not to blame for the struggles. He says it all has to do with financial troubles in the front office.
Jimmy Clausen: AP Photo/Amy Sancetta
Jonathan Stewart: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson