Matt Rhule is doing the best coaching job in the NFL in 2020

Matt Rhule announced
Does Matt Rhule deserve more praise? Photo from Charlotte Observer.

Matt Rhule joining the Carolina Panthers barely registered as a blip when the NFL‘s coaching carousel took its annual turn at the end of last season.

Rhule had been successful at the collegiate level, particularly with Baylor, but more high-profile names changed jobs.

His predecessor, Ron Rivera, made headlines by joining Washington. So did Joe Judge, after jumping from New England Patriots special teams coach to top man with the New York Giants.

Would ‘Riverboat Ron’ co-exist with demanding Washington owner Dan Snyder? Could Judge and his old-school methods succeed in the Big Apple and make him one of the few members of the Bill Belichick tree to earn positive grades?

Those questions generated more interest than how Rhule would remake the Panthers. Ironically, the 45-year-old is doing a better job than the more-touted hires.

Rhule has the Panthers at 3-2 after five weeks. For my money, he’s doing the best coaching job in the league.

Kevin Stefanski has won more games with the Cleveland Browns, but the former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator is working with greater talent. Welcome back, OBJ.

Rhule’s offense is still prolific even after losing all-world running back Christian McCaffrey to injury. The Panthers are scoring points without ‘Run CMC’ because of the core of capable veterans Rhule added in free agency.


His main get was quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Rhule made a calculated gamble by replacing Cam Newton with the smart, but brittle former New Orleans Saints backup.

Bridgewater has thrown six touchdowns and is completing 73.03 percent of his passes. His best performance was in Sunday’s 23-16 road win over NFC South rival the Atlanta Falcons.

Bridgewater’s numbers reflect the ample weapons at his disposal. Rhule landed one of the NFL’s premier deep threats when he snared Robby Anderson from the New York Jets.

Anderson’s vertical speed has opened up the underneath lanes for D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. Boosting the talent at wide receiver means the Panthers haven’t missed clutch tight end Greg Olsen, who joined the Seattle Seahawks.

It’s also helped to have Joe Brady as OC. Brady built his reputation as Joe Burrow‘s QB coach at LSU in 2019.

He’s found ways to replace McCaffrey’s dual-threat skills. Backup Mike Davis is playing the best football of his career behind a revamped offensive line.

Eyebrows were raised when Carolina traded guard Trai Turner to the Los Angeles Chargers for fragile Russell Okung. Yet Okung, who returned to the lineup against Atlanta, has solidified left tackle.

Improving personnel has helped, but Rhule and his staff have been creative putting the ball in the hands of playmakers:

It’s a similar story on defense, where Phil Snow is working a minor miracle. Snow followed his boss from Baylor and has totally revamped Carolina’s D’.

The Panthers used all seven picks on defense during the 2020 NFL draft. They also ditched the 3-4 Rivera installed in 2019 to return to a four-man front.

Snow is getting big plays from veteran retreads like linebacker Tahir Whitehead and defensive backs Juston Burris and Rasul Douglas. Burris made a crucial interception in the end zone to deny the Falcons in the fourth quarter.

Defensive ends Brian Burns, Marquis Hayes and second-rounder Yetur Gross-Matos have accounted for the Panthers’ five sacks.

Snow is still waiting on seventh-overall pick Derrick Brown to make an impact inside, but fellow rookie Jeremy Chinn is leading the team in tackles. Chinn is playing as a Big Nickel-style, ‘lurch’ safety at linebacker level.

It’s helped the front seven cope after the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer Luke Kuechly during the offseason. The defense also lost shutdown corner James Bradberry to the Giants. Nose tackles Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe were among the others who left town.

Losing marquee talents on both sides of the ball but staying competitive is the theme of Rhule’s first year in the pros. He and his college-level staff have helped the Panthers play every game close this season.

They lost by four to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 1, but that doesn’t look as bad after the Silver and Black beat the Chiefs in Kansas City. Losing by 14 to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2 is the closest the Panthers have come to being blown out.

Since then it’s been all gravy. Rhule has intelligently fused experience with youth and scheme with individual talents to help a rebuilding team punch above its weight.

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