As we conclude the NFC South’s portion of our newest series, “The Breakdown,” we take a look at the Carolina Panthers schematic philosophy. Former general manager Dave Gettleman added offensive weapons Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel through the draft to help aid their offensive output and look to take the unit to the next level. With that said, let’s take a look at what the Panthers do on both sides of the ball.
The Breakdown: A Look at the Carolina Panthers Schematic Philosophy
The Power of Design
When studying this Carolina offense, it’s evident that the relationship between quarterback Cam Newton and offensive coordinator Mike Shula is thriving. Shula’s prowess extends to Newton’s athleticism and blend of skills, size and power as a runner, incorporating a power-spread scheme that features power, trap and other zone/gap runs with Newton as the lead ball carrier.
With the addition of McCaffrey and his experience in heavy run formations, Shula’s staple power read became increasingly difficult to neutralize. These type of runs naturally create a need for a talented interior offensive line who can succeed as road graders; the Panthers have that in center Ryan Kalil and right guard Trai Turner.
Parallels can be drawn between the aerial attacks of the Panthers and their division counterpart, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Shula’s passing game focuses on vertical stretches with bigger pass-catchers such as Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess and Greg Olsen. Because these routes naturally take more time to unfold, Carolina will feature six and seven-man protection schemes that also help account for blitzes.
This is also why the Panthers operate primarily out of 11 personnel. In addition, the jumbo receivers’ struggles to separate against man coverage calls for more quick-hitters and catch-and-run opportunities that the two rookies should excel at. It remains to be seen how well Shula can implement the timing of such, but it should expand his creativity and alleviate the use of heavy pass protections.
The Ron Rivera Defense
Carolina operates from a zone-based defense reliant on boom-or-bust four-man rushes that, when effective, allows their system to flourish. When the other is true, those voids in zone coverage can become easily-exploited. Behind them is arguably the top linebacking duo in the league with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, the catalyst for their heavy use of nickel packages.
Kuechly and Davis are exceptional in their zone coverage responsibilities with their ability to quickly cover ground and take away deep voids in the coverage. When you combine both aspects of your defense, it takes serious pressure off of your corners and allows them to play sound defense with basic responsibilities.
The better a unit is at handling these zone coverage duties, the more effective and layered the blitz packages become. Versatile defender Shaq Thompson was drafted with the expectation of replacing Davis in their nickel packages, but he’s a reliable SAM linebacker who serves as the main blitzer. It’s not uncommon for Rivera to send blitzes off the edge from safeties or corners with coverage rotations behind it and intertwined stunts and twists to create free rushing lanes for such blitzers.
After a stellar 2015 campaign, Newton and company took a step back this past season and are looking to regain their form. The offensive additions should pay dividends and allow the offense to further their creativity, but it’s going to require heightened continuity. Carolina’s going to remain competitive across the division and look to challenge for a Wild Card spot.