This season Panther fans have been treated to a new culture for their football team, a winning culture. With this new culture came a new type of offense, this offense was led by offensive coordinator Mike Shula. Shula has put in place a conservative offense that has produced wins and we must give him credit for that, but if there is one thing we know as Panther fans after the John Fox era it is that a conservative offense will eventually come back to bite you.
As Panthers fans we have come to accept this new offense since it has resulted in a playoff berth but can this system be effective long term? While the Panthers offense can be dangerous it is not one that will win any shootouts, remains incredibly inconsistent, and relies heavily on the defense to get stops to give the offense time to adjust to the opposing team's defense and work out any kinks in their own play. It can also be argued that it does not take full advantage of franchise quarterback Cam Newton's ability to make big plays down field with his arm. Shula seems to prefer short or medium yard throws along with a very healthy dose of the running game. This system will work well as long as you have a strong defense and a quarterback who can score when it counts. This question should be asked though, what are the Panthers going to do if their defense starts to falter or when Shula decides to not put his faith in Cam Newton? The answer to that question was answered last Sunday against the Falcons. The final possession for the Panthers was wasted when Ron Rivera and Mike Shula elected to run the ball three times in a row with a one point lead giving the Falcons a chance to win the game with just a field goal and one minute and forty-three seconds to do it. Instead of having faith in their quarterback to make a play they made a conservative call and it almost lost them the game. The Carolina defense began to tire and the Falcons started moving up the field quickly; had it not been for a missed snap by Matt Ryan that took the Falcons all the way back to their own twenty then the Panthers would have more than likely lost and be getting ready to play the Packers in the wildcard.
Is the type of decision making that was near the end of the Falcons game the same kind that we will see from the Panthers coaching staff in the playoffs and in future seasons to come? Has Ron Rivera given up on his Riverboat Ron persona and gone back to his conservative ways more than likely at the welcome of Mike Shula? These are things we as fans cannot know, but we can stop and think what are we going to do in the future when this defense is not as strong? Hopefully the defense will continue to be strong over the many years to come and maybe all this offense needs is a shiny new wide receiver and offensive line to take it to a more consistent and dominating level. Conservative can be effective but only when you have a coach who knows when to be conservative and when to be aggressive, let us hope that the conservative play calling we saw in Atlanta does not become the new trend in Carolina.