With a strong week of offense finally under Carolina's belt, you can
tell that the Panthers' backs and skill players in general have been
waiting to unload on former OC Rob Chudzinski.
So, now they have.
Deangelo Williams, benched midseason last year after starting for the
previous five seasons, and Steve Smith have been the most vocal the last
few weeks. Williams, who spent much of 2011/12 taking early-drive
carries from shotgun for roughly two yards each time, felt underused; it
seems like essentially everyone in the discussion feels like Mike
Tolbert was being underused.
It's not a massive coincidence that late last year's turnaround came
from two things - Ron Rivera self-scouting this team and phasing out a
little of the read-option stuff, and Mike Shula's innovative coaching on
Cam Newton's internal clock (even as funny as it might be, to think of
Jimmy Clausen rushing the passer in practice). The team got away from
some of the magic that Chudzinski was trying to formulate, and got back
to basics, to greater success. That follows up with Rivera's own
comments (which, somehow, a few people still argue about), and how the
team handled itself to finish the year; it also meshes with Smith's
comments about how Chudzinski was "positioning himself" for a head
coaching job instead of adapting better to personnel.
Personally, I find it hard to argue.
The suddenly maligned Chudzinski is a very cerebral coach. I don't
think it's a coincidence that "cute" gets used a lot about his offense -
it's the exact word used to start the 2012 season against Tampa, in
which the ('11) 3rd ranked rushing offense netted 10 yards on the ground
(5 of which were from WR Kealoha Pilares). Chudzinski knows the
intricate parts of the Coryell offense all too well - he knows you can
run, as Mike Martz has said plenty of times, the core plays of '525 F
Post' and '940 F Corner Swing' can be run in 100+ combinations.
But the league isn't heading that way (consider the 300-play, color
coded offensive playsheets that OCs have used - I call it the Sushi
Menu) - it's heading toward these weird Chip Kelly playsheets that have
four (very weird) pictures so the call can be visually called. And, in
the end, if defenses are scouting you, and they look for a corner route
on third down, it's just window dressing to that defense if you shift
from a max-protect shotgun look to double wings. I love that stuff -
the billion combinations and the window dressing. But sometimes it
doesn't have to be that hard.
There's no doubt that the team had a pretty good set of offenses in
2011-12; this being, more or less, the same offense, it has the
potential to continue. So far, the new pieces under Shula have been
getting good marks, with the focus being mostly on Shula himself. I like
Mike, don't care that his father is famous, and his past doesn't have to
define his future. The end result is, there have been a few times Shula
himself has been a little too cute, too.
Since the backs have been pretty vocal, it might be worth wondering if
former RBs coach John Settle, fired while Chudzinski was still here and
yet immediately snapped up when Chudzinski went to Cleveland, wasn't a
good enough advocate for his players. There's no doubt the backs love
Jim Skipper, their once-and-current RBs coach, and there's no doubt he
has input on the design and implementation of the running game.
Regardless of the outcome, Rob Chudzinski was a big loss. I felt like
the moves made after he left were as good as can be expected (especially
after seeing Hue Jackson on Hard Knocks), and there's no doubting that
the team was better with both coaches on board. And it's 100% true,
everything that the players are saying, in my mind. The team was too
cute. It couldn't afford to be cute when it wasn't winning.
Shula's going to have some issues, too - and right now, he hasn't put
as good of a product on the field. But the catharsis of a 38-0 win
might've allowed the offense to exorcise a few demons, and along the way
that gave them a few new things to say.