Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

12 Oct 2012

Carolina's Absurd Offensive Splits

If you read Andy Benoit's Film Room column this week, you may have skipped right past a particularly strange statistic.

The 49ers are averaging 6.8 yards per play on first down, second-best in the NFL, behind Carolina.

Wait, did you just say "behind Carolina?" 1-4 Carolina, which currently ranks 18th in offensive DVOA and 20th in total offensive yards?

Yes, indeed. The Carolina Panthers this year have an absolutely insane offensive split by down. The Panthers are one of the league's best offenses on first down, and horrible on second and third down.

Carolina Offensive DVOA by Down, 2012
Down Yds Rk DVOA Rk
1 7.28 1 28.9% 3
2 4.95 24 -32.8% 29
3 4.71 23 -43.7% 30

This is not because of two or three fluky plays. The Panthers have three plays over 35 yards (66, 51, and 40) but they also have two losses of -12 yards and -9 yards. They have made 45 percent of needed yardage on 48 percent of first downs, which is third in the NFL behind San Francisco and New England. Cam Newton is completing 71 percent of his passes on first down, 56 percent on second down, and 41 percent on third or fourth down.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the Panthers have forgotten that they employ running backs on third down. Panthers running backs have only three carries on third down all season -- two on third-and-1, and one on third-and-2. They have thrown only four passes to running backs on third down (NFL average is seven, and that includes the six teams with one fewer game played.)


Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 12 Oct 2012

14 comments, Last at 15 Oct 2012, 9:40am by sswoods


by Joseph :: Fri, 10/12/2012 - 3:45pm

As a Saints' fan, I'm betting that the lack of a solid #2 WR (as well as a #3, #4, & #5) might have something to do with this.

by Kal :: Fri, 10/12/2012 - 4:02pm

Not really. What's more likely is that opponents respect the run a heck of a lot more on 1st down and the safeties are probably playing Newton and the run while there's probably a spy. On 3rd down they're looking at tendencies and assuming pass - and apparently correctly.

When you have a running QB 1st down can be a nightmare as far as defense goes. What Carolina needs to do is be less predictable on 3rds.

by Paddy Pat :: Sat, 10/13/2012 - 12:40pm

Strange, I would tend to think that third down is the nightmare against a running quarterback because that tendency to take off and pick up the down with your feet should be a major factor in softening pass coverage.

by Joseph :: Sat, 10/13/2012 - 3:19pm

Kal, let me amend your 2nd paragraph slightly.

"When you have a running QB WHO ACTUALLY RUNS THE OPTION AND STUFF instead of just scrambling on 3rd down", 1st down can be a nightmare.
This also meshes with what I have read in some other places that CAR isn't using their RB's well.

by Ryan D. :: Fri, 10/12/2012 - 4:02pm

I would say Greg Olsen is a pretty good second (if not first) option to throw to. Brandon LaFell and Louis Murphy are at least serviceable wideouts, at least by Panthers standards in the post-Muhammad world.

by Brendan Scolari :: Fri, 10/12/2012 - 4:13pm

Question: Is the 45% of needed yardage on first down essentially saying you need to gain 5 yards? Because the NFL doesn't use halves for yardage, so you're just saying they need to gain more than 4 yards for a success right?

by tuluse :: Fri, 10/12/2012 - 4:20pm

On first and 10. Not all first downs are first and 10.

by Aaron Schatz :: Fri, 10/12/2012 - 5:19pm

Right. The baseline is 5 yards on first-and-10, but it is 9 yards on first-and-20, not 10 yards.

by Insancipitory :: Fri, 10/12/2012 - 5:26pm

So, you watch the Seahawks, I take it.

by Marko :: Fri, 10/12/2012 - 7:14pm

"Perhaps part of the problem is that the Panthers have forgotten that they employ running backs on third down."

Well, that's probably because they haven't invested a lot of resources in the position. Wait, what?

by commissionerleaf :: Fri, 10/12/2012 - 7:40pm

Yeah, the Stewart and Williams contracts were pretty insane, given that their offensive line has been a declining unit for years and there were free agent linemen on the market this offseason. Anyone think this team wouldn't be better with Carl Nicks and/or Ben Grubbs and/or Eric Winston rather than Stewart and Tolbert?

Or, for that matter, Vincent Jackson?

by The Ninjalectual :: Sat, 10/13/2012 - 12:24am

I think you're confusing different NFC South teams

by Michael LaRocca (not verified) :: Mon, 10/15/2012 - 8:30am

Carolina plays like it's coming from behind when the score is 0-0 and there's 60 minutes left in the game. Plus, they can't tackle short people.

by sswoods (not verified) :: Mon, 10/15/2012 - 9:40am

Last season, during Tebow Time, the announcers would often point out that 3rd and 6 was, for the Broncos, a viable running play, as opposed to being a standard passing situation as it is for everyone else. This should be true for Carolina as well (and Philly and Washington). The conventional wisdom that the Panthers aren't using their RBs well appears to be spot on.