The Redskins have a familiar name at offensive coordinator in Scott Turner. Can Turner get the most out of a young offense with upside?
The jury is currently out on what the Washington Redskins offense will look like in 2020, but some glimpses of what may come can be found in the team’s new offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s short audition calling plays for the Carolina Panthers in 2019. To be fair, four games is a pretty small sampling size. Those games deserve caveats: they were played after Ron Rivera had been fired, without Cam Newton, and using two backup quarterbacks against two conference rivals and two playoff teams.
But the goal here isn’t to judge performance. Rather, it’s to take a look at how Turner chose to lay out his game plans as offensive coordinator. The Panthers played Atlanta, Seattle, Indianapolis and New Orleans over that span, and only the Seattle game was competitive after halftime. The New Orleans game was completely out of hand by the end of the first half, but even those play selections offered a little insight into the mind of the man who will call the Redskins’ plays in 2020.
Shortly after being hired by the team, Turner told the Redskins’ Larry Michaels that his philosophy was always to be aggressive and “take it to the defense.” Most offensive coordinators will tout that approach, but in his four-game stint, Turner’s words were confirmed, especially on first down. In those four games, the Panthers lined up for 122 first-down plays, and 83 of them — 68 percent — were passes. Kyle Allen and Will Grier lined up in shotgun formation for 85 of those plays. Turner did change the flow occasionally, and the offense ran out of the shotgun for 10 unproductive plays (the biggest gain was just five yards), but it showed a willingness to try to surprise the defense. Expect the Redskins to pass out of first down regularly.
Turner’s four-game audition followed a similar path as his father Norv’s play calling. Norv was offensive coordinator for the Panthers until Rivera was fired; he was then quickly promoted to special assistant to the head coach. Scott Turner then stepped into the OC role, and his game plans were similar. Over the course of 16 Panthers games – including 12 called by Norv — Carolina passed 64.2 percent of the time, according to the Football Database, which was the fourth-most in the league.
In Scott’s four games, the team passed even more: 66.3 percent of the time. It was a decidedly pass-first offense under both Turners, and the run game was adapted to the skills of the team. Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey never eclipsed 100 rushing yards in any of Scott’s games, but his ability to catch balls out of the backfield made him a dangerous weapon, and Turner turned him loose. With a whopping 41 catches in those four games, McCaffrey was the leading receiver by far over that span. This bodes exceedingly well for Derrius Guice and Chris Thompson.
Time of Possession
The Panthers lost the time-of-possession battle with three of the four teams they played with Scott Turner at the offensive controls. The Panthers horrible run defense was the primary culprit, but in this context, it’s important to know what Turner chose to do with the ball. The Panthers logged 46 possessions over those four games, and 16 of them were of three plays or less. In fact, more than two-thirds of Turner’s possessions had sustained drives of six plays or more, meaning his play calling was keeping his team on the field and giving his defense a rest.
Carolina had 21 drives of six plays or more, including 14 of at least nine plays in that four-game span. Expect that approach to continue in Washington, but the success will be predicated on whether the offensive line remains intact and improves, and whether Dwayne Haskins can get his teammates the ball. Brandon Scherff, Ereck Flowers and Donald Penn are free agents, and the status of Trent Williams is still undetermined, so work needs to be done to finalize that position group.
Coaches can draw up solid plays, but they need players to execute them. Turner came out aggressive in his first game against Atlanta with Kyle Allen taking 10 deep shots down the right and left sides of the field, and almost always to either D.J. Moore or Curtis Samuel. He was more conservative against Seattle defense when he took just six downfield shots, favoring the left side with four. With Will Grier under center against the Colts, Turner directed his most aggressive scheme of his audition with 11 deep passes, including nine to the right side. Against the Saints, he queued up nine deep downfield passes and balanced the attack with four to the left and five to the right.
Lots of factors determine whether an OC calls for deep shots. Do they have an offensive line that gives the quarterback enough time to set up a deep pass? And if so, is there a receiver who can get separation? The Redskins have offensive line questions that need answers, but their receiving corps of Terry McLaurin, Steven Sims and Kelvin Harmon is young, fast, and shows promise.