Mike Shula had been a constant in the Panthers organization since Cam Newton entered the league, but the 2018 offseason saw Norv Turner replace Shula as Carolina’s offensive coordinator. One reason Carolina sought Turner is because of the seamless fit—head coach Ron Rivera and Turner have worked together in the past and have similar play-calling philosophies. The main objective of bringing in Turner is to help return Newton to his 2015 form after the quarterback finished the last two seasons with the two lowest passer ratings of his career.
A Snapshot of Norv Turner’s History
Turner has served as a head coach or offensive coordinator in the NFL for 26 seasons but for the sake of relevance and brevity, this article will focus on his playcalling jobs dating back to 2006. From 1991–2005, Turner led offenses that ranked outside the top 20 in points scored or total yards just twice. In his last four stops spanning 11 years, though, his teams have ranked 20th or worse in total yards six times and in the bottom third of the league in scoring five times.
Norv Turner Pass Rates in Wins vs. Losses
Norv Turner Situational Pass Rates
*Neutral game script is when the score is within seven points. Negative game script is down by eight or more points. Positive game script is up by eight or more points.
In his most recent stops, Turner has been one of the more moderate playcallers in the league, with an average rank of 18th in overall passing rate and 16th in neutral passing rate. Where Turner has shown a strong trend is in reacting to negative game script. His teams have ranked in the top 10 in passing rate in losses five times since 2006 and outside the top 20 just once, and his tendencies have been to pass more than average when facing a large deficit, as well.
Norv Turner QB Per-Game Averages
While Carolina has hyped this hiring as a move to maximize Newton's potential, Turner’s presence has done little to buoy the fantasy numbers of his quarterbacks. Over the last five seasons, the average fantasy points scored for the QB12 is around 275, a number Turner’s quarterbacks have exceeded just twice in his last 11 seasons. Though that might be understandable with quarterbacks such as Teddy Bridgewater and Brandon Weeden under center, one could argue Turner’s presence was handicapping Philip Rivers. Rivers has had five of his seven best fantasy seasons since Turner left town. Much of this is directly related to Turner’s playcalling. The Chargers have ranked 11th or higher in passing rate in four of the five years since Turner’s departure, but never ranked higher than 15th with Turner calling plays.
Turner’s Running Backs
Norv Turner Primary RB Per-Game Averages
Norv Turner Team RB Per-Game Averages
One position where Turner has shown noticeable flexibility is at running back, especially as it pertains to individual player usage. In four of his last 11 seasons, Turner has had a back reach at least 70% of backfield touches, a mark that just five backs reached in 2017. Without a clear workhorse, though, Turner has opted for a full-blown committee, not offering a back more than 52% of backfield touches in his other seven seasons.
Even without huge touch shares, a handful of backs have put up starter-caliber fantasy seasons under Turner. This can somewhat be explained by Turner’s propensity to run in the red zone, specifically inside the 10. Turner’s offenses have ranked in the top 10 in passing rate inside the 10-yard line just twice in his last 11 seasons, but ranked in the bottom third of the league in passing rate in such situations six times with an average rank of 20th.
Norv Turner Primary Receiver Per-Game Averages
Norv Turner Secondary Receiver Per-Game Averages
*A running back was second on the team in target share.
A wide receiver typically needs to see about 25% of team targets to be a top-12 player in terms of target share. Only one player has reached that threshold in recent history under Turner, and it was a tight end. It should be noted that Josh Gordon was on pace for a 27% target share in 2013, but the fact remains Turner has rarely forced targets to a specific receiver.
Turner has emphasized the tight end position in his offense. Even after the Antonio Gates years, a tight end has been a top-two target in a Turner offense in three of his last four seasons, and Kyle Rudolph outpaced Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen just two seasons ago while Turner led the Minnesota offense.
What It All Means for the Panthers in 2018
In terms of play-calling tendencies, Turner’s most obvious habits pertain to negative game script, but that doesn't figure to come into play much with these Panthers. Carolina’s nine projected wins puts them in the top-third of the league.
Turner’s has coached pocket quarterbacks almost exclusively, and no quarterback in his last 11 seasons has rushed more than 47 times. Cam Newton has rushed fewer than 100 times just once in his seven-year career. Regardless of who’s calling plays for Newton, we know what we’re getting—a fantasy stud who doesn’t need to be efficient throwing the ball because he gets so much done on the ground. Where Turner could have an impact is in ball distribution.
Turner hasn’t been shy about using a committee when he lacks a true workhorse, and that’s what we should expect from this backfield. While Christian McCaffrey is a year matured in the NFL, the fact is that he was unable to out-touch Jonathan Stewart last season, and new Panther C.J. Anderson is a better runner and receiver than McCaffrey’s old backfield mate. More often than not, Turner has favored the player who he perceives as the better rusher (see Matt Asiata's and Jerick McKinnon’s splits under Turner), so it’s reasonable to expect McCaffrey to not lead his own backfield in touches for a second straight season. This doesn't mean McCaffrey can't excel in PPR leagues, especially since a running back has ranked second in target share in a Turner offense three times in recent history.
Tight end has been a constant in Turner’s offense, and Greg Olsen is clearly the most accomplished pass-catcher on this roster. While Olsen is coming off an injury-riddled 2017, his offseason extension suggests that he should push for a target share around 20%.
After the running backs and tight end, it will be tough for any wide receiver to push for a significant target share, and that falls in line with Turner’s past. While Devin Funchess is a formidable red-zone threat, he was miscast as a primary option last year. The addition of rookie D.J. Moore only lowers Funchess’ target floor.