Friday, January 17, 2014
Why Rivera's right to keep Shula
By David Newton
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There was a gasp from some of you when Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said earlier in the week he was keeping his staff intact for next season.
You don't change offensive coordinators such as the Panthers' Mike Shula based on one bad game.
The gasp was aimed primarily -- maybe completely -- at offensive coordinator Mike Shula returning.
Perhaps it was an overreaction to the dismal showing in Carolina's 23-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game. Perhaps it was an overreaction to the offense's inability to score a touchdown on eight plays inside the 10-yard line.
Whatever it was, it was an overreaction.
Rivera doesn't need to run Shula off. Here's why:
Continuity: One of the reasons Rivera moved Shula from quarterbacks coach to coordinator when Rob Chudzinski left to become the head coach at Cleveland was to maintain the momentum the team established at the end of the 2012 season. He also knew Shula and quarterback Cam Newton had a solid relationship, which led to a lot of maturity and much more consistent play this season for the first pick of the 2011 draft. To change would destroy all that.
Chudzinski: If you remember, wide receiver Steve Smith and running back DeAngelo Williams took shots at their former coordinator this season. They felt he was all about putting on a show to get a head coaching position, which he got -- for one season before being fired. They couldn't say enough good things about Shula and how he helped the offense develop an identity.
Injuries: Three players were used at left guard because of injuries before Travelle Wharton became the regular in the fourth game. Four players were used at right guard due to injuries before former defensive lineman Nate Chandler became the regular after midseason. Running back Jonathan Stewart missed all but six games, first with an ankle injury and then with a knee injury. There were others, but when you lose players you were counting on in the line that makes any coordinator's life tough.
Talent: Outside of Smith, Newton didn't have a consistent go-to wide receiver. No doubt finding more firepower there will be a priority during the offseason, likely the draft but perhaps in free agency as well. As solid as running back DeAngelo Williams was with 843 yards, he's still on the wrong side of 30 for backs. If you can argue Newton needs more weapons to take Carolina to the next level, then you can argue Shula does.
Production: The Panthers averaged 22.9 points a game this season, which is slightly more than the 22.3 average in 2012. They were third in the NFL in third-down efficiency, 11th in rushing and fifth in time of possession (31:54 minutes per game), areas that win you a lot of games when you have the league's second-best defense. You can argue Newton's 585 yards was a big reason for the rushing rank, but his legs are one reason the Panthers drafted him.
Just because: You just don't shake things up because the last game left a sour taste in your mouth. You remember this is an offense that was good enough to help the team win 12 games and the division title.