The two biggest reasons the Carolina Panthers are 3-2

Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater throws a pass during his team's win over the Atlanta Falcons
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Andrew Ortenberg

NFL · 1 year ago

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I'm an editor here at Pickswise who was raised in a household full of sports fanatics. Since I unfortunately never had LeBron James' jumping ability I wasn't able to make it to the NBA, and chose writing about sports as the next best thing. An avid sports bettor myself, I'm excited to get to write about the industry as it gets set to take off across the country. Buckle up.

I’ll admit it, I was highly skeptical of this Carolina Panthers team entering the season. I thought they were headed into a full-blown rebuild, and now I’ve got egg on my face. Carolina has been one of the best stories in the NFL this season, defying all pundits to race out to a 3-2 record.

Matt Rhule looks like a Coach of the Year candidate, and the Panthers are legitimately in the mix in the NFC playoff picture. So how did we get here? There are a few big reasons, and today we’ll be diving into a couple of them.

The coaching has been fantastic

First off, you have to tip your hat to Rhule. He successfully rebuilt programs at Temple and Baylor in the college ranks, and now he’s doing it in the NFL. With not even a full offseason he managed to instill an excellent culture in the organization, and his players seem to truly love playing for him. Their all-out effort has been a large reason for their success, and they look like they’d run through a brick wall for Rhule.

Schematically, I love what the Panthers have been doing on offense. Rhule hired brilliant young offensive mind Joe Brady, the architect behind LSU and Joe Burrow’s success last season, to be his offensive coordinator. At a time when so many coaches are still struggling to adapt to the realities of modern offense, Brady has been a breath of fresh air.

The Panthers understand that targeting running backs is highly efficient in the passing game, and they didn’t stop doing it when Christian McCaffrey got hurt. Instead they’ve heavily featured backup Mike Davis, and the transition has been seamless. Making running backs a factor in the passing game is one of the best ways to keep defenses honest and on their toes, and Davis now has a whopping 22 catches in his three games as the starter.

Creativity is king in today’s NFL, and Brady has been very innovative. The Panthers are using a lot of pre-snap motion and play action, and I’m a huge fan of the way they’ve utilized Robby Anderson. Anderson has at least 99 yards in four of his five games, and the fact that he’s looked far better than he ever has in his career tells you this Panthers staff deserves a lot of the credit.

The defense has a lot more talent than people realized

When All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly retired and top corner James Bradberry left in free agency this offseason, the cupboard looked pretty bare on defense. I thought there was a chance the offense could surprise some people with Brady, McCaffrey, and a potentially resurgent Teddy Bridgewater, but I never imagined this young defense would be able to hold up their end of the bargain.

A lot of the fresher faces are playing well, and general manager Marty Hurney made some shrewd pickups. Cornerback Rasul Douglas was cut by the Eagles on September 5th, and claimed by Carolina the next day. Despite not spending any of the offseason with them he has slid seamlessly into a full-time role, and looks set for a career year.

With 2018 second-round pick Donte Jackson and free agent acquisition Eli Apple, who is still only 25, the Panthers suddenly have a great young cornerback group. With 22-year-old defensive ends Brian Burns and Yetur Gross-Matos, it looks like they’ve got their pass-rushing duo of the future.

Defensive coordinator Phil Snow has been getting the most out of his unit, and incredibly this Carolina defense is giving up the third-fewest yards per pass attempt at only 6.3. If they can hit on a young linebacker to help beef up the run defense, the sky is the limit on this side of the ball.

The bottom line

It’s hard not to be excited about what we’re seeing with the Panthers right now. Rhule is the leader this team needs, and they’ve got an incredible amount of juice. Perhaps most importantly, so much of this team’s core is still very young, setting them up well for the future. With this coaching staff and the youth movement burgeoning on defense, the Panthers aren’t just in the conversation for 2020, they might be one of the league’s best teams for years to come.

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