We will have a long-time playcaller meshing with one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks of all-time. It’s quite the football mash-up.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera claimed the offense will “continue with what we do,” but there’s sure to be a learning curve for all the Panthers. Conceptually, it should be a fairly familiar scheme for Newton. Rob Chudzinski, one of Turner’s disciples, was Newton’s first playcaller from 2011-12, resulting in Newton’s only 4,000-yard season and two of three years with at least eight rushing touchdowns.
Maybe that helps, but Newton’s penchant for taking off and running combined with his lack of accuracy (58.5 completion percentage) make him an interesting project for Turner, who has typically thrived with accurate, deep-ball pocket passers.
Turner has also relied heavily on big-and-fast receivers to keep offenses vertical, something the Panthers didn’t really have in 2017 – unless you count tight end Ed Dickson since he caught Newton’s only completions of 50-plus yards. Carolina’s receiving corps needs work this offseason.
For now, let’s take a look at how Turner might impact the Panthers offense in 2018. For this study, I used the last 12 years of Turner’s playcalling for the data, hoping to find some consistencies that I wasn’t sure I’d find prior to his time with the Raiders.
Turner has always been more pass oriented. Since 2004, Turner had just four years where he didn’t throw the ball at least 56 percent of the time. His running backs during those four years? Frank Gore, LaDainian Tomlinson (twice), and Adrian Peterson. Can’t blame him for it.
Turner averaged 36.0 pass attempts per game, a number Newton has met on a per-game basis exactly zero times. Cam’s come close – he averaged 34.0 pass attempts in 2016 – but traditionally he hasn’t been part of an aggressive pass-first offense.
You’ll hear plenty about Turner’s work with Aikman and Rivers, but it has traditionally been running backs who have thrived under his guidance. Three of the four leagues Emmitt Smith led the NFL in rushing came with Turner, as did one of Peterson’s three campaigns as yardage king. Tomlinson had several big years with him as well. Gore, Terry Allen, Stephen Davis, LaMont Jordan, and Ricky Williams each had career-best seasons under Turner’s guidance.
You might immediately rush to judgment on Christian McCaffrey becoming the next benefactor of Turner’s work, but keep in mind that, at 3.7 yards per rush, he really didn’t live up to the hype as a rusher. There’s certainly a chance he’ll be limited in that role again in 2018, sharing with Jonathan Stewart or someone else. It is worth noting that the Panthers can move on from Stewart this offseason with a minimal cap hit of $1.5 million if they so choose.
There is some very, very good news coming for McCaffrey, however.
Turner has constantly relied on running backs as receivers throughout his career. The only time in the last 12 years running backs didn’t account for at least 25 percent of the receiving workload was for seven games in 2016 with Minnesota. Every other stop, Turner would use backs for as many as 36 percent of the passing game!
Look, you knew McCaffrey would have a role in the Panthers passing game no matter who called the shots, but Turner should scheme him up six ways from Sunday and give him a chance at 90 receptions.
Tight ends also play a prominent role in this scheme, provided they deserve it. Turner’s days as a Raider didn’t feature tight ends because he didn’t have any to lean on. But Antonio Gates was the biggest target hog under Turner, something Olsen should be able to enjoy in 2018.
Then you’ve got receivers .. oh, boy, so many receivers.
- Michael Irvin led the league in receiving in 1991 with Turner and had three straight seasons with over 75 catches, 1,300 yards and seven scores.
- Turner squeezed out three straight 1,000-yard seasons from Henry Ellard in Washington, including a 74-1397-6 line in 1994.
- Randy Moss’ best year in Oakland, one in which he got just over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns.
- Vincent Jackson went from nobody to a Fantasy hero thanks to the coach. He had 1,098 yards or more in four of six seasons including a career-high in 2012.
- Josh Gordon’s smash-hit 2013 season? The one with 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games? You can thank Turner for it.
- Albert Connell, Curtis Conway and Jerry Porter also put up career-best yardage totals with Turner.
- The Vikings found Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs with Turner on the staff in Minnesota.
Devin Funchess turned out to be Carolina’s top receiver this past season, but he doesn’t quite have the speed most of these other receivers had. Keep an eye on Carolina during free agency and the draft – we’ll see how it improves its receiving corps in the coming months.
And or course, Cam might have something to do with any receiver’s success.
The Panthers tried to alter their offense last offseason and wound up reverting back to what worked for them before. Turner’s arrival signals what should mean some significant changes in the passing game but otherwise, as Rivera said, keep things as-is. The relationship between Newton and Turner, and specifically how Newton fares, will be fascinating to watch.