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Shula's balanced approach paying dividends


CHARLOTTE – To get the most out of the offense, the Panthers needed to get the most out of quarterback Cam Newton. Carolina achieved that in the last six games of the 2012 season, and it needed to continue.

That was the focal point of Mike Shula's presentation to head coach Ron Rivera when he interviewed for the offensive coordinator position this offseason.

"Mike's presentation was tremendous," Rivera said. "He did a heck of a job showing me what our offense is capable of."

Shula smiled and modestly downplayed that presentation when asked about it this week as the 4-3 Panthers prepare for the Atlanta Falcons. But he recounted his primary message during that meeting.

"Basically, the biggest thing was… offenses revolve around the quarterback for the most part," Shula said. "How can we get Cam to continue to improve, which we thought he's done over the course of his career, and then utilize the other guys?"

During Carolina's current three-game winning streak, the offense has featured an improved Newton and a host of effectively utilized weapons functioning in a balanced attack.

Newton has completed 58-of-75 passes for 667 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions during this three-game stretch. He's also run for 106 yards and two scores.

Shula – the Panthers quarterbacks coach from 2011-12 – noted improved consistency and decision-making from the third-year signal caller.

"When we watch him, he just looks a little more comfortable," Shula said. "I think experience has a lot to do with it. Guys around him are all being more consistent, too."

Added Rivera: "Mike and the staff have done a nice job developing the players around our quarterback."

The offensive playbook the Panthers are using isn't all that different from the one used under previous offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski – now the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

"We've tried to go back to last year and just build on that and try to fine-tune the offense," Shula said.

Obviously, the play caller is different, and Shula has made some changes, namely staying committed to utilizing the running backs in the running game. So far, Shula's approach has been effective.

"He has done a good job cutting out some of the verbiage, cutting out some of the fringe plays and really focusing on our core specialty," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We've been pretty balanced – that's been a big thing for us."

The Panthers are priding themselves on balance in 2013, and they like the new offensive identity they've established.

"I really do think the offense has an identity," Rivera said. "We are going to run the ball and we are going to be physical off that. We are going to go play action and we are going to throw the ball vertical. I'm excited about where we are right now."

ROSTER MOVE: The Panthers have signed quarterback Matt Blanchard to the practice squad and have terminated defensive tackle Casey Walker from the unit.

Blanchard spent the first 12 weeks of the 2012 season on Chicago's practice squad after joining the team as an undrafted rookie free agent from Wisconsin-Whitewater. He was waived by the Bears during the 2013 preseason.

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