There's been a lot of talk this off season about Rod Chudzinski's offense and how we're finally going to look like an NFL team out there. And this Saturday, fans will finally get to see it in action.
The offense has fundamentally changed. It's not just a different system, with different language and different alignments. It's a different philosophy entirely, and that will make for a very different style when the players take the field.
The 2010 Panthers ran an Erhardt-Perkins style offense. The 2011 will be running a flavor of Coryell (the original West Coast Offense). And volumes can be written (and have...) on how these two offenses differ in theory. But this article is about their practical applications, and what the average fan may notice.
An Offense starts at the QB position, and that's where the first difference will be noticed. Coryell places a premium on QB protection. Consider the Panthers history at the position during the Fox era. From 2002-2006, the Panthers' starting QB missed three games due to injury, and that injury was a broken thumb caused by hitting a helmet during a passing play. More after the jump...
Then in 2007 the Panthers hired Jeff Davidson and changed the offensive philosophy from Coryell to Erhardt Perkins. In 2007 Delhomme went down to an elbow injury in game 3. In week 5, backup David Carr was injured against the Saints. In week 8, Vinny Testaverde was injured and Carr went back under center. Injuries suffered to Testaverde in week 14 forced rookie Matt Moore under center, and he finished the season out. Bad luck, or bad protection?
In 2008 the Panthers made it the entire way with starter Jake Delhomme, but in 2009 the QB carousel continued with Delhomme and Moore, and in 2010 with Moore, Jimmy Clausen, Keith Null, and Brian St. Pierre.
And imagine you're a rookie QB for the Panthers in 2010. You get thrust into action, discover just how hard an NFL hit is, and spend most of your time running for your life as protection rarely materializes. That image is bound to evoke some painful memories of watching Jimmy Clausen play. You can keep those memories repressed though, expect Clausen to look very different. More on that in a bit.
Coryell does a few things differently. Plays should develop quicker--the QB needs to release the ball quickly, except for in very specific circumstances. There will be a couple of immediate options, and if neither is available then the QB will have a designed outlet to check down to. The pocket should be a lot more stable, which hopefully means the QB will be a lot more comfortable.
The Panthers running game will look much the same as it did in 2010, and that's a good thing. The Coryell philosophy begins with a power running attack. We'll probably have the same mix of man and zone blocking we did under Davidson, but the plays might look a little different in their sets. Coryell uses a lot of different offensive looks to keep the defense guessing, while E-P tries to run a lot of different plays out of the same set. So, you'll still see Stewart following Fiametta through the left side B-gap, but you'll see it start from several different offensive formations.
The big difference where the backs are concerned is going to be in the passing game. In E-P, the RB is an outlet only. They're used for blocking and running first, and receiving second. In Coryell, the RB is often the first choice at receiver on the play. Plays are designed to get him the ball in the air. That's not to say that we're going to use those plays a lot, but the odds are that when the RB catches the ball it will be with a little daylight in front of him--a provision that isn't generally made in E-P.
The same goes for the Tight End position. Carolina has a completely different look there this year. Gone are Jeff King and Dante Rosario, and in their place we have Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen. Shockey and Olsen are both known as pass-catching tight ends, and they can motor down the field with the best of them. Expect a lot more balls thrown to that position, and expect the plays to look like they've been executed by design, not out of desperation.
In the passing game, there will usually be at least one receiver going deep every play. Coryell wants the defense to pick it's poison on every play--either stack the box to stop the power run, or cover deep to prevent the big play. The idea is, if the defense tries to cheat it's safeties up and leaves the backs deep, you can carve them up with the short passing game. E-P does something similar, but far more horizontal, with more crossing patterns and slants.
Coryell also runs far, far more timing patterns. That's going to be huge for our QBs, because it will require them to just act without thinking so much, and that's where Clausen seemed to get in the most trouble last year. The idea is, look here, and if a DB is present, move on. If not, throw to that spot--the receiver will be there when it counts. You'll see the ball going to places without players, and receivers magically making cuts at the last minute to catch them.
Is it going to be effective? Probably not, at least not at first. The team is still young, the system is new, and camp was short. There are going to be a lot of mistakes, but there should be enough good plays to get fans excited about the Carolina offense, and that's been a long time coming.
So with that said, I leave you with a few predictions for Saturday's game.
Don't look for the Jimmy Clausen of 2010. In fact, it might be good for your mental health if you go ahead and repress the memories of ever having seen that guy play. What you're going to see this season, when he plays, is someone with confidence and poise. I suspect he'll still check down a little too much, but starting Saturday the Panthers will look like a team with a Quarterback of the present, and a Quarterback of the future.
Clausen now gets the speed of the NFL game. That's a tough adjustment for any rookie, and it's one that Newton still has to make. Clausen also has to get over the "no-risk" mindset instilled in him by Fox and Davidson, and throw the ball more than 10 yards. Only game action will do that. Fortunately, he's got an offensive coordinator and qb coach who are willing to tailor the offensive game plan to his strengths. Yes, he may actually look like an NFL Quarterback now.
But that won't stop ignorant fans from booing him anyway. Which is just plain dumb, because he's a Panther and because the better he does, the more we'll get in trade for him someday.
Newton, on the other hand, will be cheered wildly no matter what he does, and what he does is going to look almost ordinary. That may actually be a tremendous let-down to a lot of fans after all the hype he's gotten.
Look for Cam to be a little slow, a little tentative, inaccurate, and utterly brilliant. Not all at once, but in spots. Expect him to throw an interception or two, and look for some beautiful long balls that may or may not connect. Don't be surprised if he breaks a run too, he'll need to do that a few times before teams really expect him to and work to stop him. And in the preaseason, there won't be any gimmick defenses designed to contain him.
But just because he runs like a deer, it doesn't mean he can do it when the games are for real. And even though he's going to throw some passes short, and look uncomfortable in spots, he's not a bust. He's going to have to learn, and he's going to have to get comfortable. While he does, just look at the athleticism and imagine how well that will serve us when it all comes together for him.
Armanti Edwards will get at least one circus catch, and he's going to get an opportunity to show some certain coach that it was a mistake to keep him on the bench all last year. Is that fair? Maybe, but he's had an entire off-season to work on his receiving skills and conditioning. He's going to be a completely different player than what we saw last year.
People will look at the right side of our line, and say, "Wow! Who's that huge guy?" He's Jeff Otah, and his return may be one of the biggest positives for the Panthers offense this year.
Greg Olsen is no Wesley Walls, at least not yet. But he's going to remind everyone of him this Saturday. Look for a few great catches by him.
Our rookie Defensive Tackles are going to look a lot better on Saturday than they will when the games are for real. If you think otherwise, think of Glenn Dorsey and Sedrick Ellis. Suh was an exception to the adjustment rule that DTs normally need when they hit the NFL.
And finally, win or lose, rain or clear skies, it's going to be good to be back at the Stadium cheering on the Panthers. Bank on it.