Chud's new schemes make Cats explosive

Before drafting quarterback Cam Newton, the Panthers made another pick up they hoped would improve the NFL's worst offense in 2010.

Ron Rivera worked with Rob Chudzinski in San Diego, where the man known as "Chud" was the tight ends coach and assistant head coach for Norv Turner. Rivera wanted to bring Turner's downfield passing attack to Charlotte, and had only one candidate in mind as his offensive coordinator.

Rivera knew the 43-year-old Chudzinski was young, smart and available. His contract had expired in San Diego, and he had also interviewed in Miami for the Dolphins' coordinator post.

Nearly halfway through the season, Chudzinski has used a mix of deep throws, an option package similar to what Newton ran at Auburn and a willingness to try different ideas to build the Panthers into one of the NFL's top offenses.

Entering Sunday's game with Minnesota, the Panthers are fifth in the league in total offense (416.6 yards per game), passing offense (288.4 yards) and first downs (22.3) - despite virtually the same lineup as a year ago when they were last in nearly every major offensive category.

"The biggest thing is the philosophy. Philosophically speaking, this offense is a vertical attack," Rivera said this week. "It's one of the things I really fell in love with when I was in San Diego for four seasons with Norv Turner. That's why bringing Chud in was so important - that vertical attack."

After Chudzinski was hired, he talked about getting yards in chunks. Through seven games, no team has more big plays than the Panthers.
Carolina has 41 offensive plays of 20 yards or more. Oakland is second with 37, while New England, Philadelphia and Houston each have 35.
The Panthers had 44 such plays all of last season, tied with Atlanta for last.

What might be most impressive is the Panthers' offense is clicking despite missing out on the OTAs and minicamps that are critical to a first-year staff with a rookie quarterback.

"There were a lot of moving parts early on," Chudzinski said. "Assessing all those things to make decisions on and putting the package together was the biggest challenge."

Newton and the re-emergence of veteran Steve Smith have been the biggest reasons for the Panthers' success. After an erratic preseason in which he completed only 42.1 percent of his passes, Newton shined once the games counted.

The Panthers drafted Newton with the No. 1 pick as their franchise quarterback, and he certainly looks to be on his way. He bounced back from a three-interception game at Atlanta in Week 6 with his most efficient performance last week in a 33-20 win over Washington.

Newton was 18-of-23 passing for 256 yards and one touchdown and ran for another. Newton is fourth in the league in passing yards - behind Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers - while Smith trails only Wes Welker in receiving yards.

Smith, 32, praised the new staff's use of him in the preseason, saying Chudzinski was putting him in a position to make more plays. Chudzinski also has taken advantage of Newton's skill set, adopting some of the read-option plays he ran at Auburn.

The Panthers also have incorporated a few quarterback runs that Tennessee used with Vince Young when Panthers receivers coach Fred Graves was on the Titans' staff. Quarterbacks coach Mike Shula and offensive line coach John Matsko also have background with the option.
"I think we're utilizing Cam and doing some things that he can do uniquely well, and we'll continue to look for those types of things to do," Chudzinski said. "I had to go a little bit out of my comfort zone and the things that I knew. It's a new challenge and a different challenge for me, which is good. I'm working to improve myself, as well."

Chudzinski spent two seasons as Cleveland's offensive coordinator in between his stints in San Diego. In 2007, his first year in Cleveland, the Browns had the league's No. 8 offense, and quarterback Derek Anderson, now Newton's backup, went to the Pro Bowl.

The following year an injury-riddled Browns team failed to score a touchdown over its final six games and finished next-to-last in total offense. New Browns coach Eric Mangini did not retain Chudzinski, who returned to San Diego.

Rivera said he never considered anyone else to oversee the Panthers' offense.

"He's a smart guy. He understands this game. He's learning coach Turner's offense. He's still growing in that offense," Rivera said. "He's going to be great at it. It's just a matter of time with him.”

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