I don’t agree with Colts owner Jim Irsay on many things, but we see eye-to-eye on two topics.
One, Dan Snyder must go. Two, football is far simpler than many make it out to be.
It remains, despite the efforts of some to make it exclusively mathematical and quantitative, a raw and inherently qualitative battle of physical abilities and mental fortitude. And it begins with the ability to run the ball and the ability to stop the other team from running it.
It’s that basic. It’s that easy. Blockers push potential tacklers out of the way. Running backs barrel through eighteen inches of daylight. Chains are moved. Points are scored. Over time, spirits are broken by a battering ram tailback who does better as the game progresses, simply because the defenders grow sick of taking a physical pounding when trying to tackle him.
It has played out twice for the Panthers since Sunday. In Cincinnati, Carolina couldn’t run — and Carolina couldn’t stop the run. On Thursday night, the Panthers ran and, more importantly, they stopped the Falcon from doing so.
While quarterback Marcus Mariota has become the pin cushion for criticism, thanks to his meme-worthy effort to throw the ball while already on the ground, Mariota was put in a difficult spot in the passing game because the Falcons had no running game.
“I was playing a little bit outside of myself trying to make a play too many times and it hurt our team,” Mariota said after the game, via the team’s official website. And he’s right about that. But he had to play outside himself because the Falcons couldn’t run.
“They started loading up the box,” Mariota said. “Unfortunately, when you’re not making any plays in the passing game, they can do that. They can get you in third-and-long and it’s tough to convert those. We have to do a better job of staying in third-and-manageable, doing a better job on first and second down, especially throwing the football that way we can keep things going.”
Offenses get to third-and-manageable by running the ball effectively. The Falcons couldn’t. And even though they weren’t blown out by the Panthers (indeed, the Falcons were very much alive in the fourth quarter), there was never a real sense that they were a threat to win the game because they couldn’t muster anything on the ground, at least not on a consistent basis.
Meanwhile, the Panthers did. Which made it easier, late in the third quarter, to respond to an Atlanta touchdown that trimmed the score to 13-9 and go down the field and score a touchdown that essentially put the game out of reach.
So, yes, it’s easy to blame Mariota. But Mariota was put in a difficult spot because the Panthers made it much more difficult for the Falcons to run on them. It was a far cry from the performance against the Bengals, and the main reason why Carolina is now 3-7, and 3-1 in the division.