This Sunday features an intriguing matchup, between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Carolina Panthers. Going into this season, many people thought that the new look Panthers would take a while to get their footing. Due to the COVID impacted offseason, a brand new coaching staff, and new starting QB, the expectations were low.
Carolina will enter this Sunday at 3-5, currently on a three game losing streak. However, this squad continues to push opponents to their limits. The Chiefs already know they are going to receive everyone’s best shot. But, this one feels a bit different. Let’s dive deeper and get to know Kansas City’s opponent for this week. From behind enemy lines, here is our view of the Carolina Panthers.
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Change Is A Good Thing
While respected head coach Ron Rivera did some great things during his tenure with the Carolina Panthers, the time for a coaching change was obvious. And so far, this new staff has largely impressed. Head coach Matt Rhule looked destined to receive an NFL head coaching gig in previous offseasons. Though, those never came to fruition at the time. He waited his turn and eventually wowed the Panthers’ brass, so much so, that Rhule received a hefty seven year deal worth $60 million on his contract. Along with him, this team is led by two other coaches that were most recently at the college ranks, in Joe Brady and Phil Snow. For more on this impressive start for the coaching staff, let’s look more into what they do so well.
Character And Creativity
Why was Matt Rhule so coveted by NFL teams? It starts with how he turned around college programs who were in dire straits. Following two plus decades of disappointing results, under numerous head coaches, the Temple Owls football program turned to Rhule in 2013. From the beginning of that run, until the end, Rhule took his team from rock bottom to their highest peak. Temple generated back to back 10 win seasons during his last two years there.
He would then go on to become the head coach at Baylor. The Bears program was in an unenviable position. After the sexual assault scandal, which resulted in the dismissal of head coach Art Briles, and the team Athletic Director and University President, the team had unsurprisingly become a turnoff for recruits. Rhule eventually stepped in entering the 2017 season. Following a disastrous first campaign where they finished 1-11, Rhule would begin to turn the ship. In his final year at Baylor, the Bears tied the program record for wins (11), and lost a hard fought Big 12 Championship Game. Above all else, is character and trust in players, has helped him get to this point.
The minds and ideas of both Brady and Snow, as coordinators, are helping the Carolina Panthers maximize on the youth they have right now. Brady’s scheme translates well to today’s NFL. Mixing looks with three wide receiver sets, or RPO action, he is all about utilizing playmaker’s abilities while in the open field. This has led to a hot start for players like Robby Anderson, Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore. Teddy Bridgewater can also push the ball to all areas of the field, and execute the zone reads that Brady sets up.
Finally, defensive coordinator Phil Snow, who was with Rhule at Baylor and Temple, has primarily used a 3-3-5 base set. This allows the Carolina Panthers to have more speed on the field. This matches up well on paper against the Chiefs. Snow loves to throw multiple looks at the opposing offense, so Kansas City must be ready for anything and everything coming their way.
Spreading The Wealth
Going back to the Carolina Panthers’ offense, we must talk about how Bridgewater has kept his team close in games. Overall, he is deadly in the intermediate passing game. That mixes in well with receivers like Anderson and Moore, who are tremendous in generating yards after the catch. This team has also done a good job of prioritizing many touches for almost all skill players. Running backs are heavily involved in the passing game. While star Christian McCaffrey has been injured, Mike Davis has made the transition smooth seeing increased reps.
Besides taking advantage of a deep set of weapons, the Carolina Panthers offense has been very balanced. This creates a problem for some defenses, in getting off of the field quickly. They are passing the ball slightly more than running it, at a 56 to 44 percent rate. They have been averaging 4.4 yards per carry with hard, physical runs. Meanwhile, the passing game has impressed when they need it most. Carolina is 11th best in the NFL in third down conversion rate, and Bridgewater has been rather aggressive in taking necessary chances and shots downfield.
The Carolina Panthers have done a fine job of bringing in top defensive talent in the NFL Draft lately. Nonetheless, there is a difference between accumulating talent and maximizing and prioritizing talent. Defensive end Brian Burns, who was a steal in the first round of 2019 at 16 overall, had an encouraging rookie season. The Florida State product registered 7.5 sacks. Unfortunately for him, Burns was not receiving the playing time and reps that many expected he would early. That has changed this season, and the Carolina pass rush has grown as a whole because of it.
In this year’s 2020 NFL Draft, the Panthers went defense for all of their selections. The first four selections of Derrick Brown, Yetur Gross-Matos, Jeremy Chinn, and Troy Pride Jr have all carved out meaningful roles already. Brown and Chinn are already important factors that opponents must account heavily for. Besides this youth movement, the oft-forgotten linebacker unit of Shaq Thompson, Tahir Whitehead and Jermaine Carter have quietly enjoyed some of their best starts of their career.
Be on the lookout for the Kansas City Chiefs vs Carolina Panthers game preview article. That will drop on Friday. For more great sports and NFL content, stay tuned to Full Press Coverage.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.