Analyzing Panthers' Offense Under Mike Shula

Mike Shula is entering his fifth season with the Carolina Panthers but only his third as the team’s offensive coordinator. The past two years the offense has been reliant on the run game but will that change in 2015? And should it?

In two years under offensive coordinator Mike Shula, the Carolina Panthers have been rather pedestrian. The Panthers’ offense has ranked in the bottom half of the league in total yards, as well as points per game.

 

2013 Season

2014 Season

Total

NFL Rank

Total

NFL Rank

Total Yards

5069

26

5547

16

Points Per Game

22.9

18

21.2

19

 

 

The fact that the front office signed two free agent wide receivers and drafted a third could be a sign that the Panthers are ready to air out in 2015. They may have the weapons now to become an explosive offense on the arm of Cam Newton.

The way the team has been able to win consecutive NFC South titles is by relying on their defense and controlling the ball on offense with their run game. This has been the team’s recipe for success and there is no reason to go away from that, even with the new wide receivers.

Under Mike Shula, the Panthers have been able to string together long offensive drives with a lot of first downs. The Panthers have ranked in the Top 5 in the NFL in time of possession the past two seasons thanks to a strong run game. This time is also high because of the Panthers’ defense able to stop opposing offenses and get off the field.

 

2013 Season

2014 Season

Total

NFL Rank

Total

NFL Rank

First Downs

319

15

347

9

3rd Down Pct.

43.9

4

41.9

12

Time of Possession Per Game

31:54

5

32:17

4

 

 

The Panthers have had a strong rushing attack the past two seasons, finishing in the Top 10 in rush attempts and finished seventh last year in rushing yards.

 

2013 Season

2014 Season

Total

NFL Rank

Total

NFL Rank

Rush Attempts

483

7

473

8

Rushing Yards

2026

11

2036

7

Yards Per Attempt

4.2

16

4.3

13

Rushing TDs

14

13

10

21

 

 

The backfield will look a little different than in years’ past with Jonathan Stewart as the featured running back with the release of DeAngelo Williams. The team drafted Cameron Artis-Payne in the fifth round to help keep Stewart fresh and healthy throughout the season.

While the offense has not been flashy the past two seasons, it has been effective. The strong defense has allowed the Panthers’ offense to grind out games and score just enough to win.

By looking at the passing game numbers below, it is clear why the organization felt the need to bring in more targets for Cam Newton. Last year, the team did actually improve in a number of statistical categories when it comes to their passing game but still are in the bottom half of the league.

 

2013 Season

2014 Season

Total

NFL Rank

Total

NFL Rank

Pass Attempts

473

30

545

19

Passing Yards

3043

29

3511

19

Yards Per Attempt

7.1

14

7

22

Passing TDs

24

15

23

15

Interceptions

13

13

12

8

 

 

They jumped at least 10 spots in pass attempts and passing yards, however this increase probably had more to do with the fact that the Panthers were playing behind a lot early in the season. A number of times last season, like against Green Bay and Philadelphia, they fell behind early and had to throw it more than they might have liked.

The offensive numbers from the past two years certainly haven’t been great which is possible why questions start to surface about whether Mike Shula is the right guy for the job. Before the Panthers’ winning streak last year, the seat was getting pretty hot for Mike Shula and some wondered, like ESPN’s David Newton, if he would be out of a job at the end of the season.

On paper, the numbers don’t look great however what if this is exactly the type of offense head coach Ron Rivera wants? Rivera played for the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl winning team in 1985 that won on the strength of the defense and strong running game (finished first in the NFL rushing yards). In 2005, when he was the defensive coordinator for the Bears he once again saw the success of the formula (ninth in rushing attempts, eighth in rushing yards).

The front office brought in a number of weapons for Newton at wide receiver but this doesn’t mean the Panthers should, or will, go away from their ball control offense. The additions this offseason gives the Panthers options, provides them flexibility and the opportunity to move away from the formula for a drive, or quarter or even a game.

At the end of the day though, if the Panthers want to put themselves in the best possible position to win their third consecutive NFC South divisional title, they are going to need to grind it out. 

*All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com and NFL.com

Brandon Croce is the Lead Publisher for PantherInsider.com. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonCroce.

Follow us on Twitter @PanthersonScout and like our page on Facebook.


Panther Insider Top Stories