A Statistical Analysis of the Carolina Panthers 2012 Run Scheme

USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers rushing attack took a step back in 2012. Why was this?

FootballOutsiders released an article yesterday where they looked at how the successful a team’s rushing attack was, based on the number of running backs lined up in the backfield on a certain play. They divided the results into two categories – how much rushing success a team had with one running back in the backfield, and how much success a team had with two or more backs in the backfield.

OFFENSE


DVOA 1 RB


DVOA 2+ RB


DVOA Difference


1 RB Pct.


2+ RB Pct.


SF

34.8%

0.4%

34.4%

26%

74%

SEA

11.8%

4.6%

7.1%

48%

52%

WAS

11.4%

7.8%

3.6%

45%

55%

NE

9.0%

4.5%

4.5%

86%

14%

BAL

8.7%

5.5%

3.1%

36%

64%

BUF

2.2%

3.0%

-0.8%

72%

28%

NYJ

1.6%

-10.6%

12.2%

43%

57%

DAL

0.3%

-18.8%

19.1%

53%

47%

NYG

-0.2%

18.5%

-18.7%

44%

56%

DEN

-0.6%

-35.8%

35.2%

93%

7%

MIA

-1.2%

-16.3%

15.1%

34%

66%

OFFENSE


DVOA 1 RB


DVOA 2+ RB


DVOA Difference


1 RB Pct.


2+ RB Pct.


GB

-1.2%

-18.9%

17.6%

60%

40%

DET

-1.4%

-48.6%

47.2%

94%

6%

NO

-1.6%

1.2%

-2.7%

49%

51%

CIN

-2.0%

-25.3%

23.3%

61%

39%

STL

-2.4%

-15.3%

12.9%

67%

33%

HOU

-6.1%

-3.3%

-2.8%

48%

52%

CLE

-8.0%

-28.4%

20.4%

65%

35%

IND

-9.4%

-34.9%

25.5%

83%

17%

PHI

-9.9%

-19.2%

9.3%

76%

24%

SD

-10.3%

-21.1%

10.8%

45%

55%

CAR

-10.9%

-1.2%

-9.7%

62%

38%

OFFENSE


DVOA 1 RB


DVOA 2+ RB


DVOA Difference


1 RB Pct.


2+ RB Pct.


ATL

-13.4%

-29.4%

16.1%

47%

53%

JAC

-13.4%

-18.4%

5.0%

58%

42%

MIN

-14.1%

17.8%

-31.8%

32%

68%

KC

-14.7%

-3.6%

-11.1%

57%

43%

PIT

-16.3%

-27.1%

10.8%

65%

35%

CHI

-19.8%

0.0%

-19.8%

61%

39%

TB

-22.3%

9.1%

-31.3%

34%

66%

TEN

-25.1%

-19.0%

-6.1%

46%

54%

OAK

-27.2%

-18.1%

-9.1%

51%

49%

ARI

-32.5%

-25.2%

-7.3%

52%

48%

NFL

-5.4%

-7.5%

5.7%

56%

44%

The results show that the Carolina Panthers lined up with one running back 62% of the time, while 38% of their plays featured two or more backs. They also show that the Panthers struggled running the ball out of one back formations, as their DVOA of -10.9% is below the league average of -5.4%. However, they fared slightly better with two or more backs, with a DVOA of -1.2%, which is higher than the league average of -7.5%.

Something interesting to consider is how much worse the Panthers run game was in 2012, compared with 2011. In 2011, the Panthers DVOA out of 11 personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) was 34.4% and 8.5% with 12 personnel (1RB, 2TE, 2WR) (via FootballOutsiders 2012 Almanac).

So, what do these numbers really mean? Why did the Panthers run game struggle?

The Panthers moved away from their two tight end sets they ran so successfully in 2011 with Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen, and it hurt their running game. The Panthers had more success running the ball out of the 12 personnel in 2011 because not only did they have two tight ends that needed to be respected in the passing game, but also because one of them was also a good in-line blocker (Shockey). Because of this, defenses had to make the tough choice of either staying in their base formation, which would expose them against the pass, or move to their nickel formation, which would expose them against the run. This ‘will they or won’t they’ game that defensive coordinators had to play every time helped the Panthers offense, as their run game was successful in this balanced and versatile scheme.

The shift to three wide receiver sets in 2012 hurt the Panthers because although teams had to move to their nickel defense to better defend the formation, they did not respect the Panthers wide receivers (outside of Steve Smith) enough in the passing game. As a result, they stacked the box with seven or eight defenders, daring the Panthers to run the ball. When they did, it mostly consisted of read-option plays out of the shotgun formation, which were very boom-or-bust in nature. This style of running hurt the Panthers overall, as indicated by their -10.9% DVOA.

The Panthers still used 12 personnel in 2012, but were less effective running it because Gary Barnidge and Ben Hartsock were clearly not on the same talent level as Jeremy Shockey. Barnidge was a pass catcher who couldn’t block, while Hartsock was a run blocker who couldn’t catch. So, whenever the Panthers rolled out either one of these tight ends to pair with Greg Olsen, their offense became much more predictable as defenses could tell what the play would be if Barnidge was on the field (pass) or Hartsock (run).

Therefore, the increased use of 11 personnel and predictability of 12 personnel, combined with the boom-or-bust nature of the read option running game, along with the terrible offensive line play, doomed the Panthers run game in 2012. Purely looking at the statistics show the Panthers ranked ninth overall in the NFL in rushing yards, but when you look at the bigger picture, it shows that the offense was held back by a lack of a reliable run game due to these limiting factors.

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