Coordinators talk no-huddle offense, nickel defense

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CHARLOTTE – The hurry-up offense has occasionally been mixed into the Panthers' game plan under coordinator Mike Shula.

And given quarterback Cam Newton's comfort with the no-huddle approach and Carolina's success with it in Sunday's win over the Bears, it's something that might be in the mix more.

"I think it helps the team," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We've shown that we do handle the no huddle nicely. I think it's a good change of pace for us."

"Change of pace" is the key phrase.

The Panthers have no intention of suddenly becoming an entirely no-huddle offense for a variety of reasons, some of which include the desire to control the clock and keep their defense properly rested.

"The bottom line on that – I think you have to have a good mix," Shula said. "I don't think we'll ever go no-huddle the whole game.

"We've looked at it over the course of three and a half years and have mixed it in. We've added to our inventory on it."

During a picture-perfect two-minute drive to end the first half against Chicago, Newton completed 5-of-6 passes for 72 yards and threw a 9-yard touchdown to tight end Greg Olsen. That success with the hurry-up offense resulted in Carolina using it at least once on each of the first three possessions of the second half.

Newton thrived in a no-huddle, shotgun-oriented scheme throughout his college career at Auburn, and that success has continued in the NFL when the opportunity has arisen.

"It allows (Cam) to react to what's going on," Rivera said. "When things seem to be going 100 miles an hour, they slow down even better for him. Sometimes, that's a really good thing."

"Sometimes," Shula added, "it helps make the defense react quicker than they want to."

But Shula is also quick to point out that Newton has enjoyed plenty of success with a traditional huddle that leads to him taking the snap under center. And that will continue to be the base from which Carolina's offense operates.

"I think (Cam's) good at both," Shula said. "It's good to have the balance."

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COUNTING ON THE NICKEL: With offenses trending toward more three wide receiver sets and pass-catching tight ends, the Panthers have reacted by relying on their nickel defense.

The fact that Carolina had three linebackers on the field for just four plays against the Bears illustrates that point.

Rivera was asked if the nickel is becoming his team's base defense. "Yes," he said. "Based on how we play people and how people play us, yes."

The nickel package increases Carolina's defensive speed with another defensive back on the field. But that defensive back takes the place of a linebacker, which can make stopping the run more challenging.

"It's really whatever works; whatever we like from the opponent in terms of what they're doing and what we feel best suits us," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "When we take Chase (Blackburn) or A.J. (Klein) off the field, those are two good players, and we have to weigh that. It's a week-to-week thing."

MIND GAME: When the Panthers defense looked at the scoreboard at halftime, it said they'd already allowed 21 points to Chicago.

But those 21 points didn't tell the whole story of the first half for Carolina's defense, and McDermott wanted his players to understand that.

"Sometimes as a player or coach you get in that situation and say, 'Wow, what's going on here?' You just need a little bit of perspective and just need to settle down," McDermott said.

Of the Bears' 21 first-half points, 14 of them came as a direct result of Panthers' turnovers. One fumble set up Chicago at Carolina's 28-yard line. A second fumble gave Chicago the ball at Carolina's 13-yard line.

"There was one pure scoring drive," McDermott said. "You don't like any points, but having said that, you want the players to come out in the second half with a clear mind, (knowing) what exactly is going on here. I think our players did that."

The Panthers surrendered just three points and 112 total yards in the second half and forced turnovers on each of the Bears' final three possessions.

"In the second half the players came out mentally tough," McDermot said. "I'm proud of them for that."

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