Rhule had been successful at the collegiate level, particularly with Baylor, but more high-profile names changed jobs.
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.
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.
Most Pass Yards In the 1st Half this season:
Teddy Bridgewater 261 (Today)
Patrick Mahomes 260
Josh Allen 247 pic.twitter.com/yBsMhRaOj7
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) October 11, 2020
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.
Over the past three weeks, Mike Davis leads the NFL with 14 broken tackles. Alvin Kamara, who plays tonight, is second with 11.
— Bill Voth (@PanthersBill) October 12, 2020
Improving personnel has helped, but Rhule and his staff have been creative putting the ball in the hands of playmakers:
Love this nugget from @josephperson:
3rd and 2, need a 1st to seal the game. Teddy Bridgewater checks from a pass play to a Curtis Samuel inside run play after seeing 6 DBs.
Great call by Teddy.
Curtis Samuel is a mismatch. https://t.co/tU0f9pNBXG
— Edgar Salmingo, Jr. ✌️ (@PanthersAnalyst) October 12, 2020
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.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 11, 2020
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.