It's not the start that Matt Rhule had envisioned in his third year as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, falling to the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants. Carolina has now dropped nine straight games dating back to last season and have not won a game inside Bank of America Stadium in over a calendar year.
Pressure is mounting and if Rhule doesn't start producing wins soon, it could very well cost him his job. Despite the 0-2 start to the season, Rhule is confident that things will get turned around as he referenced in Sunday's postgame press conference.
"My heart hurts for the guys in that locker room I know how much they wanted to win the football game. Made some mistakes early in the game. The defense bailed us out through that, took the lead in the second half only to see it slip away. Obviously, for our guys, that’s two games in a row where we’ve come down to the very end with a chance to win the game and come up short both times. I take full responsibility for that. That’s my job, that falls on me. I have to help these guys find a way to make just one more play and win the game. They’re trying, they’re grinding, they’re working. They left it all on the field today and we are coming up just a play or two short and I know how frustrated they are. I just want to make sure I say that we’re close. I believe that with all my heart. I think we’re so close, we’re coming down the stretch but we haven’t found a way to get it done. That’s my job, to help us get over that last hump. It’s the hardest part and we haven’t done it yet.
"At the end we’re 0-2, we haven’t played an NFC South game yet. I just want them to stay locked in. I really believe that they’re close. At the end of the day we’re just, we haven’t taken the ball away in two games, so as good of a defense as we play, to think that at halftime we’d be minus two and we would be tied 6-6 I wouldn’t have believed that. All the things I know we’re capable of doing just haven’t quite happened yet but it doesn’t mean we’re not capable of doing them. So, I hurt for them, at the same time we have a lot of football left and I think we have to get better. We have to get better in terms of a lot of things. But, we’re not punch drunk. We’re not sitting there like’ Oh gosh poor us’. We’re just hurt because we took the lead in the second half, following all the way back and it felt like we got things going. Again, they made one more play than we made."
You could say the Panthers are a missed field goal away in the Browns game and a couple of plays here and there in the Giants game away from being 2-0. The problem is, those plays didn't happen and now they've dug themselves a major hole with a grueling schedule on deck.
How do the Panthers get the bad taste of losing out of their mouth and turn the corner? Matt Rhule explained.
"I think it just comes down to executing at a higher level, starting with the coaching staff. Making sure we're doing all the right things and putting guys in the best position. And then the players, going out and we saw the obvious things the drops, the two turnovers and all those things. Lots of other opportunities for big plays both on offense and defense that are there, we just have to go make."
In my opinion, it's a little deeper than that. The offense has to find ways to stay on the field and get more points on the board. When you're averaging 52 offensive snaps per game, you're not giving your defense much of a chance. Those guys are going to be gassed in the fourth quarter and it's shown as they were unable to come up with a stop in both games when they needed it most.
On top of that, the staff has to do a much better job of utilizing its personnel.
Why carry seven receivers if the plan heading into the game is to only play three? Why trade for Laviska Shenault and have him inactive for Week 2 when there was a clear need on kickoff return? Why does Ian Thomas and Tommy Tremble have a combined four targets in two games when Ben McAdoo's offense traditionally involves the tight ends in the passing game heavily? On the defensive side, why is Brian Burns dropping back into pass coverage in obvious passing situations when he's the only legitimate pass rusher this team has?
Until these questions go away, I don't know if the Panthers will be able to "get over that last hump".
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