Carolina Chaos head coach Andy Towers

Chaos’ offensive shift: From two-man games to two-handed dodgers

By Hayden Lewis | May 21, 2024

Earlier this month, a new theme was etched into the foundation of the Carolina Chaos offensive philosophy, headlined by the selection of Shane Knobloch and Eric Dobson in the PLL College Draft presented by Q-Collar.

During his pre-draft presser, head coach and general manager Andy Towers let the media know that Carolina’s offense from before will undergo an evolution. Previously, the Chaos worked a lefty-righty set that allowed players on the attack to stay on their strong side and use body contact to free shooters for looks.

"We are going to play a different style of offense and made that decision before free agency," Towers said. "We are very clear on where we want to go and the type of players we need to get there."

Midfielders Dhane Smith and Ryan Smith previously headlined the Canadian-backed midfield group with an extensive box lacrosse background. Canadian box players often stick to one side of the field, utilizing their dominant hand only. Instead of a free-flowing offense initiated by players with speed, the offense worked via screens both on and off-ball to free up the dominant hands of the midfielders and attackers alike. 

During their 2021 Championship run, the Chaos would operate the offense from above goal line extended and use screens and other forms of contact to create separation.

In this set, minus the one exchange below GLE, the Chaos work above GLE as a six-man unit setting multiple screens in the mesh look in front of the cage. The set generated an off-balance runner that skipped wide of the cage and didn’t force the Archers to over-exhaust themselves on defense. 

As a defender, it makes life easier when you don’t have to turn your head to check below GLE in coverage for your man. It also allows the communicator on defense to call out slides and easily direct traffic. 

The offense had wrinkles that allowed players to attack from GLE if they had a mismatch at X. It also allowed players to act as feeders when they had their defenders hung out in front. But the goal of the offense was to work the screen game above GLE and open up the hands of a shooter off-ball. 

After seeing the same schemes for five years, though, opponents adapted to the Chaos offense and shut it down for longer stretches in games. The team had to rely on All-Star and All-Pro players to take over and score one-man goals at times because it became harder to operate fluidly.

In the two-man offense, the screener is the most important player because the player's job often is to set a screen that can free a teammate for a mismatch. A short-stick defensive midfielder is usually targeted in the two-man game on the switch, but with the adaptation of SSDMs across the PLL to cover in the two-man game, the Chaos offense reached a breaking point.

The overall athleticism and physicality in team defense have also advanced, making the old Carolina attack schemes outdated in an ever-evolving league. 

After last season ended with a 15-9 playoff loss to the Redwoods, a change was necessary.  The shift to an offense backed by two-handed dodgers rather than the two-man game will open up more scoring opportunities and allow the Chaos to play the kind of aggressive, swarming defense that Towers wants. 

Carolina’s defense is dynamite, and an improved offense could earn the team its second PLL Cash App Championship Trophy in six years.

The beginning of the evolution

The Chaos’ offensive evolution has been in the works since Brian Minicus’ breakout rookie season last year. 

Minicus took over as an X attackman in 2023 and opened up new looks from behind the cage that the Chaos didn’t necessarily utilize in years past. Throughout the season, Minicus used his speed to torch opposing defenses and free up his hands for a shot or passing opportunity. Minicus only recorded nine assists, but he dished 45 assist opportunities. Teammates need to finish better than 20% of Minicus’ passes in 2024. 

Towers furthered the strategic shift when he brought in three-time All-Star free agent Jules Heningburg during the offseason. Heningburg started his professional career as an attackman with the Florida Launch of the MLL before joining the Redwoods as a midfielder. Heningburg also showcases great speed and agility when he dodges and is a better feeder than Minicus is down low. 

A key factor in Heningburg signing with the Chaos in the offseason was the opportunity to play attack. With the Woods, Heningburg was switched into the midfield position. 

Both players operate smoothly below GLE and can stretch the defense down toward the endline, opening up space for the midfielders to attack from the box down. Extending lower toward the endline will also give Josh Byrne more space to operate from the left wing and may drag the closest slide further away, giving Byrne more chances to attack his defender one-on-one. 

Minicus and Heningburg will stretch the defense down low to open up Byrne and the newly reloaded midfield. Two of the newest beneficiaries of this change will be Knobloch and Dobson. 

The two rookies are gifted offensive midfield threats that Towers is enthralled to have on his roster, and they will be integral in the evolution of offensive philosophy in Carolina.

How Knobloch will evolve the offense

What stood out most about Towers taking Knobloch with the fourth pick was how excited the coach was to have the Rutgers product on the team.

Knobloch will be vital in changing the Chaos offense because he’s a matchup nightmare for poles and SSDMs as an initiator. At 5-foot-9, Knobloch has an unassuming frame height-wise but uses all 200 pounds of his muscle to bully his defenders in coverage as a dodger. 

In short, Knobloch can create shots on offense like Jack Hannah and has the motor and raw talent of last year's Rookie of the Year, Tucker Dordevic.   

Knobloch doesn’t need help from screens or a teammate in the two-man game to create offense. He’s a one-man wrecking crew that can take over an entire game in the blink of an eye. 

Knobloch’s dodging ability will free up Byrne and Minicus, the main initiators from a season ago. Knobloch will also draw the LSM out of the box on most offensive possessions, allowing teammates like Sergio Perkovic and Dobson (a.k.a. Perkovic 2.0) to get matched with short sticks. 

What isn’t talked about enough in Knobloch’s game is his effectiveness as a distributor. Knobloch burnt so many defenses with his speed and scored 98 goals during his collegiate career. He also amassed 49 assists because he dodges with his head up and scans the field constantly due to being an undersized player height-wise. 

Knobloch will take defenders on the dodge, draw a slide then skip a ball through an entire defense, leaving the defense scratching their heads wondering how to stop him. 

Freeing up the shooters

The aforementioned Dobson and Perkovic will be cardinal in stretching opposing defenses as step-down two-point threats. Dobson and Perkovic are both Notre Dame products with ear-shattering howitzers for shots. 

Last year, the Chaos only had six two-point goals on 49 two-point shot attempts -- the fourth-worst percentage in the league from long range. 

Dobson is 6-foot-5 and Perkovic is 6-foot-4, making both players a matchup nightmare. Paired with Knobloch, Dobson and Perkovic would draw SSDMs, creating mismatches in early offense for Carolina. 

Dobson, the 12th overall draft pick, frequently makes his defenders look silly because he possesses elite strength and utilizes his body as protection when dodging.

This Dobson goal from the 2023 NCAA semifinals displays a fraction of his offensive potential. Dobson can excel in the PLL with all of the stars around him. He was considered a late first-round prospect with plenty of upside on early draft boards, but an inconsistent senior season with the Fighting Irish saw him slide to Round 2.  

Dobson can take over games and has shown it on the biggest stages at the college level. He needs to work consistency into his game to have a successful pro career. What can help Dobson the most at the pro level is playing in an offense with great passers. He isn’t the greatest at getting open off-ball, but the Chaos offense is great at setting off-ball picks to free up personnel on the weak side of the field for shots. 

Dobson will need to assimilate the old Chaos offense that allows shooters to get open while also learning how to operate as a ball-handler in the more aggressive pro game. 

Carolina has accumulated a plethora of offensive threats through free agency and the draft to revamp its offense. We’ve yet to see Knobloch and Dobson in pro action, and for them to have success at the next level, they’ll need to learn how to take a backseat at times in the offense. 

Knobloch and Dobson fit the Chaos’ offensive scheme perfectly in theory. We’ll get to see if they can execute it when Carolina opens its season on June 2 against the Denver Outlaws.