Matt Rhule loyalty, trust is driving force to keep playoff hopes alive for Carolina Panthers
The definition of loyalty is a strong feeling of support or allegiance. It's a driving force for Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule. He supports his staff and gives them all of the tools and latitude to complete their part of the mission, to potentially, reach the win column each week. That's what he did for former offensive coordinator Joe Brady.
At the onset of his career with the Panthers, Rhule hired Brady - an up-and-coming star in the coaching ranks just one year removed from winning a national championship at LSU. Last Sunday, Rhule had to make, arguably, the toughest decision in his professional coaching career when he felt there was no other remedy to the offensive woes of the team and fired Joe Brady. One of the biggest reasons for Brady's release was his failure to establish the run game to bring consistency to the team's up-and-down scoring efforts as well as manage the time of possession. Although communicated vehemently by Rhule, the massage did not come to fruition with Brady at the helm.
Penalties racked up by the offense have also been a major factor in the team's lackluster offensive performance. But it is apparent that Rhule felt strongest about Joe Brady's hand in what was not developing.
Now he will extend the same power to the team's former running back coach turned offensive coordinator Jeff Nixon. Rhule and Nixon have been close friends since the days when they played together in high school. Perhaps the deeper connection will foster greater communication with regard to the changes in the offense that Rhule attempted to implement with Brady. "One of the things I like best about Jeff is that he's even keel, he doesn't get too high or too low," Rhule said.
There is, however, something different about the how the players look at Nixon's approach to the game that they are already forming connections in a smooth transition of power. Carolina Panthers running back Ameer Abdullah, who will likely see his role increased with Christian McCaffrey sidelined, elaborated on the myriad reasons why he thinks there is a good connection with Nixon. "He's very cerebral, understands the game - the ins and outs, knows where everyone's supposed to be," Abdullah said.
"He coaches from an understanding standpoint as opposed to, like, do your job which is good for a lot of young players."
Nixon, who played as a running back at West Virginia from 1993-1994 before transferring to Penn State, has a very good understanding of how the team should mount their rushing attack because he's got a natural feel for the position and how it effects the rest of the offense. He was also Matt Rhule's co-offensive coordinator at Baylor for three season's. So the chemistry has been there for a long time. Nixon has also focused on the run game in an NFL environment before as running backs coach for the Miami Dolphins. He also has experience coaching tight ends which could be added to the mix more frequently in the upcoming games ot help bolster the team's 28th ranked third down efficiency performance this season. He will also make greater efforts to create more explosive plays with weapons like Panthers wide receivers DJ Moore and deep threat Robby Anderson who says he harbors no ill will toward Brady. "It's not like 'cause Joe is gone that now I'm gonna all of a sudden be involved and Joe was the problem," Anderson said.
"They know what I'm capable of doing."
Rhule told the media earlier in the week that he was only looking at this week and long-term goals would be something to look at later.
The biggest obstacles for Nixon will be having to work with the team's current offensive line personnel. That group has been riddle with injuries all season and lacks consistency at critical positions as well as having to utilize the same playbook. The team has just a week to re-tool anything that Nixon wants.
This week the Panthers will face Falcons running back Mike Davis - a player Nixon coached last season to a career best 1,000-plus yard season from scrimmage. Look to see more of those capabilities with the current group Nixon is molding for Carolina to showcase similar influence in the coming weeks if Sunday's matchup is a successful campaign.
The Panthers still have a chance to make the playoffs as long as they start stacking up wins instead of losses.
CAROLINA PANTHERS REMAINING SCHEDULE
Week 14 - Sun, Dec 12 vs Atlanta 1:00 PM
Week 15 - Sun, Dec 19 @ Buffalo 1:00 PM
Week 16 - Sun, Dec 26 vs Tampa Bay 1:00 PM
Week 17 - Sun, Jan 2 @ New Orleans 1:00 PM
Week 18 - Sun, Jan 9 @ Tampa Bay 1:00 PM