The Carolina Panthers have given the reigns of a talented offense over to the son of Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, Mike. Mike Shula has seen a lot of football in his life. I would imagine having a father that achieved the level of success Don has, one might learn a thing or two about this game.
The early years of Don’s success came with a run oriented offense led by Larry Csonka. The offense was supported with a defense that was not big on individual talent but played very well as a unit, thus earning the moniker “no name defense”. This “no name defense” was led by Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti. I am hoping this is the future of things to come with the Panthers. At least where Mike Shula is concerned.
Mike has a super talented backfield. It can honestly be said the Panthers have the best “running” backfield in the entire league, especially when you count the mobility, elusiveness, and tackle breaking ability of Quarterback Cam Newton. Shula seems to recognize this strength and claims he will make full use of this talent on offense. I can only pray this means we have seen the last of the read option as our number one running play. Williams, Tolbert, Stewart (when healthy), and the recently drafted Kenjon Barner are all talented and gifted runners. These should be the players the team leans on this year. The power run game is where the Panthers have their roots. Traditionally we have always been a running team that will mix in play action passes. I hope that is what we will see from Mike Shula.
Instituting this type of offense will help the team in many ways. Firstly running the ball successfully will keep our defense and questionable secondary off the field. If we can control the clock we can control the pace of the game. Looking at just our division schedule, we will be facing some real offensive juggernauts. Falcons, Saints, and Bucs all have highly explosive offenses. Keeping control of the ball will greatly limit the opportunities of these potent units. With the depth we have at running back we should have some really fresh legs late in the game that will be running against a tired defensive unit.
Additionally, with success running the ball we will force the defense to bring more men into the box to play against the run. This will be a huge benefit to our passing game. The lingering question with this offensive unit has been who will be our secondary receivers? Steve Smith is obviously our number one receiving threat but there is no clear second receiving threat. By focusing on the ground game, defenses will be forced to play aggressively against the run and that will leave the defense vulnerable to play action pass and will lessen the relevancy of who is the second receiving threat. Steve Smith will have more opportunities to get behind the defense or Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen can be found quickly in the seams of the defense.
These benefits of the run game don’t account for Cam as a run threat of his own. If you can recall his rookie season Cam made some really incredible plays in the passing game. He started with his arm, but as defenses began to respect his passing ability, he would break them down by running. He was only getting thru one to two reads before pulling down the ball and making plays with his legs. So if Carolina has success running the ball, they’ll have success passing the ball, and by default Cam will have a chance to use his feet and hurt defenses. As the defense turns to run with receivers and attempt to cover who we send out on pass routes, he can pull down the ball and run while the defense has their backs turned in coverage.
With a renewed focus on the run game as promised by Mike Shula, Carolina has a chance to be one of the top offenses in the league. This in turn will help our defense to improve over last year’s unit. I look forward to seeing what Mike Shula has in store for Panther fans this year. We could and should have multiple Pro Bowlers on offense this season.
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