Fresh legs may help re-establish Williams

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams slipped on a black and white striped tank top on Thursday, I said he looked like a prisoner ready to make a jail break.

"I hope I run like that on Sunday,'' the team's leading rusher said with a laugh.

Williams felt jailed last week as the Panthers (9-3) held him out with a quad contusion. In a way, he's been jailed for much of the past six games he's been active as opponents have loaded up against the run, keeping him from gaining more than 46 yards in a game.

Maybe a pair of fresh legs after a rare late-season week off will help.

That the next game is against New Orleans at the Superdome should bring added motivation, and beyond it being for first place in the NFC South.

The last time Williams played in New Orleans he rushed for a team-record 210 yards as the Panthers (9-3) ended the 2012 season with a 44-38 victory.

"Any time you get a break, miss a week or two or three, you are going to have more bounce, a little bit more energy, because the body gets a rest,'' Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "For a running back to be able to take a break like that, it's going to help him.''

To put what Williams did last season in perspective, the 210 yards are only six less than he's had the past six starts this season.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, the Saints are a much improved defense under new coordinator Rob Ryan, even if you couldn't tell it in Monday night's 34-7 loss at Seattle.

The Saints are giving up 113.2 yards rushing a game this season, compared to 147.5 a year ago. They are giving up 4.6 yards per carry, compared to 5.2.

Still, the Panthers are committed to running. They are committed to getting Williams back to where he was early in the season when he was third in the league in rushing, averaging 97 yards a game instead of 36 as he has the past six games.

"I think it has an opportunity to turn around,'' Rivera said.

Williams hopes fresh legs help.

Injury update: Backup running back Jonathan Stewart did not practice for the second straight day, but Rivera isn't concerned. He said the soreness Stewart is having with his ankles has more to do with getting back into football shape than the injury that had him on the physically unable to perform list at the start of the season. ... Rivera said defensive end Charles Johnson skipped the treatment he'd been getting for a sprained right knee and had just standard treatment on Thursday. All signs point for Johnson to be ready to start on Sunday.