It's easier to recap an offense when you just scored 35 points in a win
than it is to talk about it when you score six points in a loss. And,
yet, this offense is both of those things.
Mike Shula's unit has scored over 30 points twice, beating up on a
couple of terrible defenses with lightning efficiency and doing things
it otherwise might not. It's also failed to score ten points twice, the
median being 23 at Buffalo - one point shy. It ranks 7th in rushing
offense, but 27th in pass offense (poor outings in a couple of games,
along with taking the foot off the throttle in two blowouts, both skew
that a bit) helps bring them down to 21st overall (19th points).
It's tough to say it's just execution, because it's always easy to say
that. If execution were always an expectation, everyone would throw
deep every down; it's just not that easy. But there's a difference
between what receivers did in that six point game (v/s Cardinals)
dropping a number of sure first downs and at least one touchdown, and
the precision attack against the Vikings last week.
I've always said that what happens in blowout wins and losses are the
exception to the norm. So what is Carolina on offense? It's difficult
to say. In close losses, it's been conservative, adhering to what its
team needed to get done, but not quite what it needed to do to win. In
opened-up games, there's no doubt that they've put up good numbers.
Logic would say, open it up all the time, right?
But that's never quite been what this team does best. It's a thin
line. Balance is necessary, and Cam Newton is one of the better
playaction passers. It's not for nothing - his playaction isn't just
whether the back might run, it's also whether he might run. Teams might
or might not be afraid of Deangelo Williams, who's been productive but
has yet to break his customary 60 yarders. Teams are petrified of
Newton in the open field.
All of that said, Shula hasn't been remarkably different from Rob
Chudzinski. I noted from his signing in spring of 2011 that Shula was
of the same philosophy offensively as Chudzinski, and the playbook
didn't really change. The terminology shortened, but it didn't really
'change'. How the offense is being run isn't really much different.
There are going to be some natural preferences in personnel usage, there
are going to be different judgements made. But the people who cheer
Shula's good days, and the people that boo his bad ones, had their minds
made up well before the ballgame. What you're watching hasn't really
That said, there have been some differences:
*The Seahawks game was a definitive neutering of the passing game.
There's no way around that. 119 passing yards, full of dumpoffs, is a
tough way to run an offense, even against a top secondary and a top
defense. That was a failing. You don't want Newton just putting up
deep balls all day, but that's not this offense.
*Shula will run the ball. Chudzinski got remarkably pass happy in
Carolina at times, no matter what he had in the backfield - even having
the 3rd ranked rush O in 2011 despite being 14th in attempts. Too
cerebral an approach in these Coryell offenses means finding a way to
squeeze 50 passes into a game. That said, Newton has approached 40
attempts against Buffalo and Arizona, and while you have to adapt to the
situation, there are still times Shula can slow the game down a bit
It seems that the Chudzinski staple play, the shotgun draw, is gone.
It seemed like, for the first 22 games of Chudzinski's tenure, that if
they wanted to run the ball on first down, it was out of 3 wide,
shotgun, and was generally a DW carry for somewhere between -1 and +2
yards. For an offense that gained so much on the ground over those two
years, that just wasn't an effective play.
*Shortened terminology. Basically, this offense is setup in modular
form - the personnel on the field changes how it looks, but for the most
part, you have a few basic construction steps when making a play.
A run play might be (Formation), (motion/shift if applicable), (run
A pass play is going to be (Formation) (motion/shift) (blocking
scheme), (pass routes, numbered for the three obvious receivers, named
for the backs). Shula has switched that up a bit to (formation,
motion/shift) (name of the play designating the routes and blocking),
which is quicker.
So with that, he can still run a play - let's say "Jet Right 940 F
Corner" is now called "Seattle" - it's not, by the way.
He can call the same thing that Chudzinski called, and the players will
do the same thing. They just have to remember what they're doing on
Seattle instead of being told that the linemen block Jet to the right,
the Split end will fly, the TE will break inside short, and the flanker
will run a drive route across formation (think the first Brandon LaFell
touchdown of the year). The fullback runs a corner route and the
halfback stays in (halfback is ALWAYS last, and without any direction
otherwise the F or H would block to the type of direction that Jet Right
Shula definitely likes the two by two 'bunch' formation. I don't have
a playbook in front of me at this moment - it's on a couple computers
and a tablet at home - but it's that base personnel or 3 WR formation
where there are two receivers each side, split to about 7 yards.
Bunched up close enough they can block, but still with enough receiving
threat that it might force a defensive coordinator's hand if it would
otherwise be an extra man in the box; it puts four defenders "split",
possibly out of base, leaving either a safety up on a receiver, or a
linebacker out of position.
The team does run a fair bit of three wides, a traditional Chudzinski
staple, as well. More two TE than 2 back, and rarely both (San
Francisco, for instance, runs 22 personnel about 20% of the time, way
outside the norm, in the same roots of this offense).
Carolina's run 3 end-arounds already, and the risky flea-flicker-TE
Screen last week was really interesting. Shula has been more creative
than I'd expected, honestly. They just aren't going for long yards.
*What are we missing?
-The big plays. Newton didn't target longer than 20 yards in game one
and couldn't connect on game two. Since then, the team has taken some
shots, but maybe not enough. Williams, likewise, has yet to really bust
a long run.
-RAC. Carolina's very low on run after the catch - something that
comes with the deep bomb but also with the screen game, broken tackles,
and big plays (see above, obviously).