Getting ready for another long one...
This past summer, we took a stab at predicting what the new offense would look like. The Panthers had hired almost nothing but Coryell disciples in the off season, so it was pretty easy to guess that they would be installing that offense.
That first article and the follow-up took that assumption and ran with it, making some rather bold predictions on what we would see in 2011.
One thing we didn't guess was that Cam Newton would be as good as he is. Let's take a moment of silence to reflect on just how lucky we were that he declared, and that Hurney had the guts to draft him...
As far as the offense, we were dead on. The Panthers run a beautiful implementation of Air Coryell, the original West Coast Offense. They're fifth in the league in total offense, and that's largely driven by their potent passing attack.
Carolina is first in the league in passing plays that go for over 20 yards, they're fourth in yards per attempt, and they're fifth in passing yards per game. Note that the teams ahead of them are led by QBs like Brees, Rodgers, Brady, and Rivers.
Take another moment of silence to consider how QBs generally get a lot better in their second year...
One thing we called is obvious every time they take the field. You'll notice that this year, Carolina is more active before the snap. In 2010 they would seemingly line up in the same formation every play, and either try to run or pass out of it. In 2011 we've seen the power-I, the spread, and everything in between.
When was the last time before 2011 that you saw three receivers line up in the slot? And there's always a guy in motion. This offense is busy.
That's a function of the philosophy, and it makes for a much more entertaining unit. But it's not just entertaining, Coryell is a decidedly physical brand of football. So, when we decided to discuss how it would actually function in Carolina, one of the first thoughts was that the Panthers would do less zone blocking and more man.
We also made the following point, and the obvious prediction that followed:
A general problem with the basic Coryell offense is that plays can take a long time to develop, leaving your quarterback exposed against good pass rushers.
Turner addressed this in a few ways. First, he emphasized pass protection on the offensive line. His mentor, Ernie Zampese, used to say, "There's a premium on keeping the quarterback healthy, it's the most important thing you can do."
Turner fully bought in to that. He increased the number of quick mid-range post passes off of play action. He also fully utilized the Tight End as an outlet...
The Panthers are 13th in the league in surrendering sacks. In 2010 they were 30th, giving up one sack every ten times they dropped back. And that was with a QB who looked to throw the ball away, as opposed to Newton's style of hanging in the pocket, constantly looking to make a play.
Granted, having a big, mobile QB with great field vision has something to do with that, but it's still a testament to a renewed emphasis on protection.
Another thing that we pointed out was the re-emergence of the Tight End in our passing game. The Turner Coryell loves to use the Tight End as a check-down, and Newton is great at finding one.
Prior to the season, the Panthers brought in Jeremey Shockey and Greg Olsen, and have certainly taken advantage of their hands. In 2010 Panther Tight Ends caught 63 passes for 627 yards and two touchdowns. In 2011, through seven games the Tight Ends have already caught 53 passes for 651 yards and five touchdowns.
Coryell starts wtih power running, and the power running game is still intact, and the Panthers still make use of their two-headed monster. While it may seem at times like they've made a switch in priority, the stats are remarkably even between Stewart and Williams. The only difference in their games is in the receiving aspect, where Stewart is far more likely to be targeted.
As far as the passing game, we pointed out the following:
In Chud's first year [in Cleveland], the Browns went to their receivers 46% of the time for 15.4 yards per catch, but there were only four receivers that caught balls all year. Two of them caught a staggering 92% of the passes to that unit. Granted, they really didn't have a lot behind the first two guys (Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius), but that distribution takes feed the stud to an entirely new level. The Running Back's in Chud's system caught the ball 23% of the time for 4.9 yards per completion, which may be due more to Jamal Lewis' hands of stone than the offensive playcalling.
The number that leaps out at you is at Tight End. With Chud calling plays, the former Tight End coach had that unit hauling in 31% of all passes for 14.3 yards per attempt.
Through eight games, the Panthers have gone to their receivers 49% of the time for 17.2 yards per catch, and only three have made a catch so far, with the top two (Smitty and Nanee) accounting for 80% of them.
Running Backs have caught the ball 21% of the time for 8.6 yards per completion, which is a testament to the skills of our backs, and Tight Ends have caught 30% of the balls for 12.3 yards per catch. What can you say about Chud's play-calling? He is who he is...
What's remarkable is that the Cats are executing his offense better than his last team did, with a rookie QB. Do we need another moment?
What's really remarkable is that the Panthers are running a system that's heavily dependent on precise routes and timing, and they're doing it without the benefit of a training camp.
As the season progresses, you can bet that Newton will continue to get a better feel for who will be in a certain position when, and he should start to deliver the ball to spots more often in the intermediate game. That will cut down on sacks.
It also wouldn't be a surprise to see LaFell get more snaps. Right now Nanee is like a second coach in the Huddle, someone who can remind people of what their assignments on plays are (you were wondering why he was starting? No Training Camp, remember?).
LaFell looks like the better talent, and if that's true he should push for more playing time.
For that matter, Edwards and Pilares may get some looks just to see what they can bring to the table. It's not like we're seriously making a playoff run.
Regardless, the new system is already a ton of fun to watch. And the Panthers are only going to get better in it.