Earlier this week, former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky pointed out a tell that he spotted in game film of the Panthers’ offense. Predictably, Panthers coach Matt Rhule disagrees.
“I saw that,” Rhule said Friday, via Darin Gantt of Panthers.com. “I’ve been around long enough. I’ve seen enough coaches get out there and say, ‘Every time they do this, they’re going to do this.’ Then it’s wrong. I disagree with it.”
It’s a very real dynamic. For years, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had an obvious tell in shotgun formation, with different foot placement based on run or pass. (A league source recently told PFT that the Steelers knew about it, that it drove them crazy internally, and that Roethlisberger never stopped doing it.)
In Carolina’s case, Orlovksy claimed that running back Christian McCaffrey lines up behind and to the side of quarterback Baker Mayfield when a run or an RPO are coming, and that McCafffrey lines up next to Mayfield when the play called is a pass. Orlovsky called it “coaching malpractice.”
Rhule rejected that theory.
“If you’re saying that they knew whether we were running or passing [against the Giants], I would say, ‘How come we ran for 146 yards and 6.3 yards per carry?'”
That’s a lame explanation. The Giants had only the Browns game to use as the basis for studying any potential tells in the team’s new offense under Ben McAdoo. Maybe the Giants didn’t notice it. Or maybe the Panthers are good enough to still gain 6.3 yards per carry when they run the ball, even with a tell.
The real football coach, the defensive coach in me, spends a lot of time on defense, watching other people’s back sets,” Rhule added. “Saying if you know it’s a run or pass or not, every play in the National Football league is a run or pass. We might say this is a 70 percent run in this formation. Still a 30 percent pass.”
Right, but Orlovsky found a flaw that, according to him, has 100-percent accuracy when it comes to run or pass.
The real question is whether the Panthers will do it against the Saints. At a minimum, McCaffrey should stand in the exact same place on every play, run or pass. The next-level strategy would be to start by doing what they did against the Giants, and then to switch it up once the Saints take the bait in a key moment, like Rocky going back to southpaw.
Without studying every shotgun snap for the Panthers through two full games to see if Orlovsky’s theory holds (what do you think this is, my job or something?), it’s nonsense for Rhule to brush it off as nonsense. What Orlovsky claims to have found is exactly the kind of thing that teams look for when trying to crack the code through the study of film. The Saints, if they didn’t already know about it, will have studied the plays and come to a conclusion as to whether Orlovsky’s discovery is supported by the available visual evidence.