Dec 16, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) avoids a sack by San Diego Chargers linebacker Gary Guyton (53) during the first quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Panthers to Scrap the Read-Option?

Hey folks, the following is a second post by guest poster, Anthony Dunn. Anthony is a longtime Panthers fan and reader:

Less than two years ago, Panther fans would have thrown proverbial rotten tomatoes at me for saying “I’m glad Rob Chudzinski is gone!” Cleveland can have him for all I care. Luckily for them, Weedon and the read-option would be seriously funny.

Carolina’s tepid offense cooled fan love for Chud last year. Superficially, Panther production didn’t drop off as much as one would think. Carolina fell from offensive rank 7 to 12 overall, declining in points per game, 20+ yd passing plays, and rushing yards and TDs. Had Carolina not picked it up late in the season, the numbers would have been much worse.
This too little, too late offensive stabilization of Chud’s gimmicky read first, hope Cam figures something out second offense, led critics to claim that defenses had figured out the sophomore phenom.

Dec 30, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams (34) carries the ball up the field against the New Orleans Saints during first quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Peer a little deeper into the numbers, and it’s clear that defenses didn’t figure out Cam, they figured out Chudzinski’s run-read offense!

Chudzinski exploded onto the Charlotte scene in 2011, contributing significantly to Newton’s rookie success. With a strong running attack, opposing defensive coordinators believed the Panthers would play it safe with Cam. Instead, the new offensive coordinator pushed the raw rookie quarterback to the limit, stunning defenses by opening up the vertical passing game. Consequently, Newton won the offensive ROY and Steve Smith avoided retirement.

Draft experts had questioned Newton’s ability to transfer his skillset to the pro level. Chudzinski appeared a genius by simplifying his complex system into a “hike it to Cam and let him do his thing” scheme. It worked.

This read-option offense, however, fell into a muddle in 2012. Better prepared defenses overpowered Carolina lineman, who struggled with their blocking assignments.

Run blocking should be a lineman’s easiest assignment. Pick a guy, and push him backward. In the read-option, however, lineman have to pass block for a moment and then transition to run blocking, creating a momentary hesitation where defensive lineman can gain an edge. Carolina linemen played on their heels behind the line of scrimmage too frequently.

Carolina’s running backs suffered the most in this scheme. DeAngelo Williams’s conspicuous absence prompted questions concerning his relationship with the coaching staff. When Chudzinski did call his number, Williams found himself in the read option, where he always looked awkward. Unsurprisingly, Jonathan Stewart’s suffering was from the sidelines as normal.

November 4, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (28) runs with the ball as Washington Redskins inside linebacker Perry Riley (56) makes the tackle in the third quarter at FedEx Field. The Panthers won 21-13. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Chudzinski finally incorporated more traditional run sets late in the season. Williams flourished, averaging 5.8 yds per carry and amassing 378 yds and 2 touchdowns in the last four games. The Panthers went 4-0.

Now that Chud has moved on to the magical land where football dies, Cleveland, offensive coordinator Mike Shula is predicted to move the Panthers in a more conservative direction. Shula will hopefully rely less on designed QB runs, and instead place Cam in down and distance situations that promote consistent success. Cam will still flash out of the pocket when necessary, but I think this will be based on opportunity rather than by design.

Cat Crave’s Ken Dye suggested this week that the Panther ground attack is poised for a comeback. Look for Williams and Stewart to break out after the bye week.

One thing seems certain, Panther fans appear to be as sad to see Chudzinski leave as Browns fans are to see him arrive.

Panthers rushing yards per game:
Game 1 vs TB- 11 L
Game 2 vs NO- 219 (Newton leading rusher) W
Game 3 vs NYG- 60 L
Game 4 vs Atl- 190 (Newton leading rusher) L
Game 5 vs Sea- 82 (Newton leading rusher) L
Game 6 vs Dal- 112 (Newton leading rusher) L
Game 7 vs Chi- 119 L
Game 8 vs WSH- 129 W
Game 9 vs Den- 52 L
Game 10 vs TB- 97 L
Game 11 vs Phi- 109 (Newton leading rusher) W
Game 12 vs Chiefs- 165 (Newton leading rusher) L
Game 13 vs Atl- 195 (Newton leading rusher) W
Game 14 vs SD- 155 W
Game 15 vs Oak- 112 (Newton leading rusher) W
Game 16 vs NO- 273 W

Thanks again to Anthony Dunn, who contributed the above article.

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Tags: Carolina Panthers Carolina Panthers 2013 Carolina Panthers Read-option

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