Coach Matt Rhule understands the Panthers are not putting a product on the field that fans want to see.
“When fans pay their money to come here, they deserve to see better football than we played last night,” Rhule said Monday. “We played good defense, but people want to see offense. They want to be entertained.”
Rhule is right. Fans want to see wins. Instead, Carolina (1-3) lost 26-16 on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium against the Arizona Cardinals (2-2) despite leading 10-3 at halftime.
Carolina plays well enough on defense to win football games. If the team could play just league-average offense, fans would likely be entertained by more Panthers points and the subsequent wins that come with it.
But the Panthers are far from a league-average offense. Baker Mayfield is the least-efficient quarterback in the NFL based on his EPA per play score (expected points added) plus his completion percentage above expected (CPOE), which is a metric popularized on Twitter by The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin.
— Underdog NFL (@Underdog__NFL) October 3, 2022
According to Pro Football Focus, Mayfield is last among qualified quarterbacks with a 46.4 PFF grade through four games.
His performance issues are vast. Mayfield’s five batted passes against the Cardinals were his most in a single game in five years, according to PFF. His league-high 10 batted passes in 2022 are three more than anyone else.
There are several reasons a quarterback can experience batted balls, Rhule said. Oftentimes it comes down to rhythm and timing. In other words, Mayfield is not throwing the ball at the right time based on the number of steps back into the pocket he is supposed to take according to what play offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo calls.
There are other possible reasons. Perhaps defenders are anticipating when Mayfield will throw, based on play recognition, which is a product of tendency studying and film research. Offensive linemen are coached to combat this by staying engaged with their rushing assignments or by fighting their hands down when a defender leaps.
Regardless, Mayfield’s batted balls are creating turnovers and stalling drives.
Carolina is last in the NFL in third-down efficiency, converting 12 of 49 tries (24.4%). By consistently failing to move the chains, the Panthers are not keeping the offense on the field. Carolina is also last in average time of possession (24:18). An NFL game is 60 minutes.
By often punting or turning it over, the Panthers defense is both playing too many minutes and defending short fields too often. On Sunday, the Cardinals started inside Carolina’s 40-yard line four times. Conversely, six of the Panthers’ 11 drives never crossed their own 40-yard line.
“When you play the way we played on defense for long parts of that game, we just need the offense to kind of kick in a little bit and make some plays,” Rhule said. “And it just didn’t happen.”
The Panthers held a 10-3 halftime lead before Arizona outscored Carolina by 17 in the second half.
The offense must immediately figure out its third-down issues, Rhule said.
“We have to get it fixed because the protection is good enough that we can settle that down a little bit. That has to happen this week. It’s been four weeks of it,” Rhule said. “We just need Baker to settle down and play within the scheme and play on time. Those are the things that we coach. Those are the things that we believe in, he believes in.”
In Rhule’s three seasons, the Panthers are 5-14 at home. There has been at least a different offensive coordinator, quarterback, offensive line coach or left tackle involved in all 14 losses.
Six-year veteran Taylor Moton has been one of few models of consistency during Rhule’s tenure. He has not missed a game in his career.
“It hurts. It hurts a lot. We all put a lot into this, year in and year out, going through losses. But at a certain point you just have to trust the process,” Moton said. “We do that, come along as a team and just know that we want to go 1-0 each week of the season.”
Moton said all he can do is lead, execute the plays that are called and focus on his daily process in hopes of both self and overall team improvement.
“For me personally, maybe my process needs to be tweaked if I’m not getting the results I want,” Moton said. “If I see that growth, I know that it is working. If I’m not seeing that growth, I know I gotta figure out what needs to be tweaked. So that’s what I’m focusing on personally. What am I doing wrong in my process? Why am I not getting results I want personally? And then tweak those things so I can be better.”