Panthers offense under Joe Brady to adapt to stars
The Panthers are taking a risk.
Just a month after owner David Tepper recognized the “difficulty of transitioning” from college to pro, the Panthers will have at least five coaches with mostly college experience leading the team.
With the hiring of head coach Matt Rhule, offensive coordinator Joe Brady and possibly defensive coordinator Phil Snow, the Panthers have invested in leadership that has never coached in the NFL at this level. Rhule also adds Frisman Jackson (wide receivers) and Jeremy Scott (strength and conditioning) to his staff, two coaches who join him from Baylor.
But maybe no risk is greater than the one they take with Brady. Ignoring the age of the 30-year-old, Brady has never been an offensive coordinator before or has never been responsible for calling all games for an offense.
He’s from LSU where he served as the passing coordinator and wide receivers coach for just one season after spending two years with the Saints as an assistant. Brady was responsible for calling the games in the red zone, third downs and a few other forfeits with the Tigers.
Hire him could be a gesture of genius, add a rising coach to a team in transition.
But what to expect from a Brady offense?
At LSU, he helped implement a unit filled with running pass options that relied on harnessing the strengths and abilities of players in a position of competence. Much of what he absorbed from his time with the Saints translated into the field with the Tigers.
Prior to Brady’s arrival in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, LSU initially relied on establishing a running game and using game passes to get the ball in 2018. In this offense, the winner of the Heisman Trophy 2019, Joe Burrow was not highlighted and did not benefit from the scheme.
But Brady tailored the offense to suit Burrow – deeper throws, more passing options.
He also adapts better to receivers, tight ends and Burrow running backs in the passing game, giving them more ability to adjust their routes to any changes opposing defenses have given them.
What does all of this mean for the Panthers?
At Brady’s introductory press conference on Friday, he took the time to point out that the offense would not just be his vision. Instead, it would be a collectively created system that best matches gamers.
“What we’ve done (at LSU) is we’ve found what our players have done well, and we’ve put them in position to be successful,” Brady said. “We weren’t just playing games for the sake of playing games, we were looking to find out what our guys did well and that takes time. We have to find what our guys are doing well and put them in the best position to be successful. Let’s find out what they are doing well and do what they are doing well. If we don’t, we don’t do a great job as a coach.
Carolina’s offense will change depending on who the quarterback is, whether it’s Cam Newton, Kyle Allen, Will Grier, or someone not yet on the roster.
Newton’s fate with the team won’t depend on hiring Brady. Newton’s improved accuracy issues and style of play don’t necessarily complement past patterns Brady was a part of, but he would attempt to adapt the offense to the former NFL MVP. Time will tell on the quarterback’s situation.
A Brady offense can also benefit running back Christian McCaffrey. Having finished last season with 1,005 receiving yards, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him wider; The four- and five-receiver sets were common at LSU and with the Saints, where Brady was a 2017-18 offensive assistant.
McCaffrey will likely take part in more big games and run more explosive routes than throwing the ball at him in the apartment as often as he did last year. The hope for the Panthers is that this should also result in its use more selectively, especially after the wear and tear from its heavy use this season (career high 1,039 snaps played).
This offseason, the Panthers will need to add more depth to the receiver with the new offensive offense. They have DJ Moore, who is just having a great season, and Curtis Samuel, who has shown the potential to be explosive but fell short of expectations in 2019.
LSU and Saints offenses also show an addiction to the tight end position, as evidenced by the Tigers’ success Thaddeus Moss last year, finishing with the team’s fourth most receiving yards. Ben Watson and Jared Cook have both had success with the Saints in this position over the past two years. There will be a big opportunity for Ian Thomas in the Panthers offense. After years of potential, Thomas, a 2018 fourth-round pick, must show this offseason if he can become a reliable weapon.
Brady’s offenses also rest on a solid line. The Panthers allowed 58 sacks in 2019, tied with the Dolphins for most in the NFL. With LSU running four- and five-receiver formations in the spreading offense, that leaves fewer blockers to help with pass protection, forcing the line to have even more responsibility. The Tigers won the Joe Moore Award in 2019, awarded to the nation’s most outstanding offensive line unit.
The line was already an area Caroline had to tackle. Guard Greg Van Roten is a free agent. Center Matt Paradis and rookie Dennis Daley have had tough years, and rookie second-round pick Greg Little has suffered injuries throughout the season. The inconsistencies up front played a huge role in Allen’s woes in the second half of the season. With the hiring of Brady, the focus will be even more on fixing this group.
We’ll have a better idea of what to expect from the offense once the Panthers start trading off-season and all assistant coaches are hired. But there’s no doubt that this group, and the games they run, will be very different in 2020, no matter who starts at quarterback.
“Our system will be what our players do best,” Brady said. “This is a vision you have for your players. You should have a vision for each person on your offense list and they should all play a role. When you can find guys who fit the vision and understand their role, this is where you are successful.