Posted September 04, 2013

Steve Smith: Panthers suffered in 2012 because Chudzinski was auditioning for jobs

Carolina Panthers, NFC South
Steve Smith (l.) and Cam Newton are a lot happier than they used to be. (MCT via Getty Images)

Steve Smith (left) and Cam Newton are a lot happier than they used to be. (MCT via Getty Images)

SEATTLE — By any measure, the Carolina Panthers’ offense was a disappointment in 2012. What was expected to be a potent run/pass combination became a relative debacle in which far too much was placed on Cam Newton’s shoulders following his record-breaking rookie season of 2011. The offensive balance was lost, and it took half a season for the Panthers to set things right. Carolina moved from dead last in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency metrics in 2010, to fourth in ’11, and down to 10th in ’12. Carolina’s response to a 7-9 season was to fire general mamager Marty Hurney, nearly fire head coach Ron Rivera and replace offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski (now the Cleveland Browns’ head coach) with former quarterbacks coach Mike Shula.

Panthers receiver Steve Smith conducted a conference call on Wednesday morning with the Seattle media in preparation for the Panthers’ Sunday opener with the Seattle Seahawks. When I asked Smith how things might be different under Shula, he went in a different direction than I expected — throwing Chudzinski under the bus.

“I think it was really a power move by the former offensive coordinator [Chudzinski] – he was really positioning himself and trying to show, ‘Hey I’m capable,’” Smith said. “I think he was applying for a head coaching job, and our offense kind of suffered because of that. At times, we got kind of cute and did things that weren’t necessarily us. Underutilizing Mike Tolbert — all kinds of different things. We’re out of that, the past is in the past, and we’re moving forward. Coach Shula’s going to change things up, and that’s what’s happened so far.”

The relative underuse of Tolbert was one of the more curious things about the Panthers’ offense. Carolina signed the former San Diego Chargers’ red-zone star — the perfect kind of bruising, bullish back for the Panthers’ smash-mouth running style — to a four-year, $8.4 million contract in March 2012, and inexplicably let his workload diminish. Tolbert still scored seven rushing touchdowns, but he carried the ball just 23 times in the red zone in 2012, as opposed to 59 carries in ’11, and 69 carries in ’10, when he set a career high with 11 rushing scores. It was the best of many examples of how Chudzinski had gone out of sync with his own personnel — for whatever reason.

So, are things different with Shula?

“I can’t really say how much, but it’s different. Just the little important things — over-verbiage and some other things [from last year] that seem small, but we’re focusing more on the details. That part is very, very important, and I think it’s the difference.”

When I talked with Newton about those differences in May, he said some of the same things about increased communication, without any of the other concerns.

“Coach Chudzinski was a key to our success,” Newton told me then. “He obviously moved onward and upward, and Coach Shula is going to pick it up and make a success on his own by putting the offense in the best positions possible. So for us, we want to take what we’ve started here and make it easier for us to communicate, hone in on our communication skills, and make everyone play faster.”

According to Steve Smith, everyone’s already playing happier, and there was nowhere to go but up.

21 comments
Whatever
Whatever

I guess Smith didn't want to lay any of the blame on his doorstep, eh? Sure, it's all Chud's fault, because he wanted to show, um, what was it exactly that he showed last year?

Newton is frustrated because he's not mature enough to properly handle being a leader. Smith can't get out of his "look at me against the world" attitude.

Things obviously didn't go well for Carolina last year. But to throw all the blame on Chud is silly.

noodlez
noodlez

YOU CAN COUNT ON 89 TO SPEAK THE TRUTH TO SOMETHING.

donald5
donald5

How do you audition for a new coaching job by having a horrible year on offense?  Hey Cleveland... "I'm capable"  and want your new HC job... but please ignore the fact that my offense is going in the tank...  That makes sense.

NoBiasIntended
NoBiasIntended

Throwing someone under the bus, which may be merited, then saying "we're moving on?"  Doesn't sound like they moved on and all that statement does is light more fires.  It's the opposite of moving on.

lionoah
lionoah

The comments are always good for a laugh here. it's the same crap everytime, "Shut Up!!!", "What do YOU know about football", "the media". The fact is a guy like Steve Smith is a very very good football player who has played very good ball under several coaches and assistants and probably knows what he is talking about. I would give him the benefit of the doubt for no other reason than as a receiver he must understand how an offense must attack a defense, how to play effectively and efficiently (faster) and what works and what doesn't from a player's perspective.

He didn't get personal in his attack on Chud (and I am a Browns fan), he just stated that there was unrealized potential last year, and we all saw that there was. It wasn't injuries that did the Panthers in last year, and perhaps Newton was frustrated because of the leadership on the team but I'm just speculating there. Fact is, the Panthers have a few talented players and SHOULD play better on offense but haven't and that falls for the most part on the coaches. Is Mike Shula the answer? Who knows, but he has some solid pieces to work with and not a whole lot of excuses if the offense falls flat. 

yadda71
yadda71

Newton had about 140 yards and was sacked 4 times the last time Seattle came to town. Expect more of the same on Sunday. Seahawks 37-13.


lignas
lignas

If Newton to change perception about him, he needs to dominate the Seahwaks Sunday playing at home. Seahwaks have not shown consistent road wins last two years.

nola70118
nola70118

Maybe so, but Cam was quite immature as well.  We all remember him pouting on the sideline.

WildRhymer
WildRhymer

Smith ...good NFL receiver  ....dumb as h3ll in all other ways!!!!

JamesMartens
JamesMartens

Yes I can see that.  Because every offensive coordinator auditions for a head coaching position by having a low ranked offense....

Tony M
Tony M

Always nice to throw people under the bus. Hope he doesn't hope to get into coaching after his career ends...its a small fraternity.

jdbolick
jdbolick

Doug Farrar genuinely doesn't understand why a team with one 43 million dollar running back, another 38 million dollar running back, and Cam Newton would cause "the relative underuse of (Mike) Tolbert"?  Really?  Furthermore, the Panthers haven't had a "smash-mouth running style" since John Fox was the head coach.  Mike Tolbert was the team's second most frequent red zone rusher behind Cam Newton, and Chudzinski was rightly praised for styling his offense to suit the team's personnel.  This column is simply staggering at the level of general ignorance regarding an NFL team, something you would expect to read on BleacherReport, but not SI.com. 

AndreaAbruzzi
AndreaAbruzzi

Yea, the fault always lies with someone else...

jdbolick
jdbolick

@lionoah Naive fans often assume that just because a guy works in the NFL that he knows a lot about football.  I constantly heard that reasoning from Panthers fans about Marty Hurney while he systematically destroyed the franchise with one terrible move after another.  "He works in the NFL so he must know what he's talking about.  If you knew then you'd be working for an NFL team blah blah blah."  Steve Smith isn't employed because of his great understanding of the game or offensive concepts.  He's there because he has world-class toughness to go up and compete for a catch, take a big hit, then get right back up and do it again. 

And you're really going to suggest that losing a Pro Bowl center for the entire year wouldn't affect an offense?  That going from a long-time veteran at left guard to a rookie who didn't even play Division I wouldn't affect an offense?  Also, in the team's seven wins last season Cam Newton threw 2 interceptions.  In the nine losses he threw 10 interceptions.  And let's not forget that this discussion is about criticizing an offensive coordinator who took one of the worst offenses in the history of the NFL and then posted two top 10 seasons with the only major addition being Cam Newton.  Anyone bashing Rob Chudzinski is either an idiot or biased because he left for a job with someone else.  He did an incredible job with the Panthers.

Patrick37
Patrick37

Entirely different Panthers team with a lot to prove. Seahawks suck on the road and preseason showed it in the 1st half of every game. I expect the Panthers to run over the Seahawks D which I feel is very good just going to be blind sided this weekend. Seahawks are way overrated this year and I feel they have a lot of hype to live up to.

djp9
djp9

@JamesMartens Sometimes it isn't that simple. There are coaches who will run 'their' system to prove it works regardless of personnel. This appears to be exactly what Smith is saying. These coaches have a belief in 'their' system, regardless of situation or personnel and won't change no matter what happens on the field. Their belief is that the system is fine, the players just don't execute. 

djp9
djp9

@jdbolick I disagree with you and agree with Smith. First, not to insult you but I trust the opinion of a 10 yr NFL vet over any of us posters. Second you actually made his point in that Tolbert was the SECOND leading red zone rusher. If he had been the first, which is why they signed him, it would have provided Cam with more running room and open receivers on the play fakes. Chudzinski did appear to 'cuten-up' the offense from where they were personnel wise.

sdanner52
sdanner52

@AndreaAbruzzi I am a Panther fan,and I know a lot of "football smart" Panther fans,we all saw everything written happen before our own eyes,so what Smith said is 100% accurate,in our opinion.

jdbolick
jdbolick

@djp9 @JamesMartens Chudzinski ran a significantly different offense than he had with the Browns precisely to suit the Panthers' personnel, and specifically a dual threat quarterback like Newton.  Does anyone believe that Cam Newton is a great quarterback right now?  Probably not, and yet Chudzinski got enormous production out of him precisely because of how well the offense played to his strengths.  Even if you momentarily ignore that the statistics actually prove Steve Smith wrong anyway, he's complaining about how a FULLBACK was used.  A fullback.  Really?

jdbolick
jdbolick

@djp9 @jdbolick Ugh.  First, no, the Panthers did not sign Mike Tolbert to be the primary red zone rusher.  They signed him to be a versatile weapon out of the backfield, particularly as a RECEIVER, since neither Williams or Stewart are particularly adept at running routes or catching passes.  Why would you think a guy signed for $2 million a year would be expecting to have a major role on offense and supplant two running backs making around $7 million a year each?  Also, on what planet does your suggestion that giving Tolbert the ball more in the red zone would provide "Cam with more running room"?  You do realize that only one player can possess the ball at one time, right?  If Tolbert gets the handoff then what does Cam's "running room" even matter?

I get why players bash those who have left an organization, especially when Carolina's offense has looked like a disaster in the preseason and people are already questioning Shula's competency, and I understand why fans would blindly support anything a star player says.  But none of that changes the fact that Chudzinski did a superlative job of utilizing his personnel in ways that suited their strengths while avoiding their weaknesses, particularly with Cam Newton. 

jdbolick
jdbolick

@sdanner52@AndreaAbruzziPlease don't speak for Panthers fans (of which I am one), nor should you claim that anyone who believes this tripe to be "football smart."  Chudzinski did a masterful job of playing to the strengths of his personnel, which is why the Carolina offense has been nauseating so far this preseason.  If you want to talk about not utilizing players properly then look at this nonsense about trying to make Cam Newton into a conventional drop-back passer.  As a fan I am holding out the likely vain hope that Shula is just pretending to be this vanilla and boring to fool Seattle, not that it will matter.