Ellis L. Williams: Five plays that explain why Matt Rhule and the Panthers fired Joe Brady

Ellis L. Williams, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Football

Over the Panthers’ bye week, coach Matt Rhule said he would watch tape of Carolina’s 33-10 loss against Miami before making any decisions about his coaching staff. Seven days later, he called former offensive coordinator Joe Brady into his office and fired him.

Brady’s departure is the product of more than one disappointing outcome. The Panthers’ offense hasn’t consistently threatened defenses all year. Carolina ranks 28th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, which measures efficiency against league averages. Over the past four games, they have scored seven touchdowns. The Panthers average just 19.7 points per game; are 28th in yards (300.8) and 22nd in red zone touchdown percentage.

Worst yet, the Panthers’ 18 third-quarter points are the fewest in the league and a clear indictment on Carolina’s inability to make effective in-game or halftime adjustments. Too often Brady called plays like he was enacting the board game battleship rather than setting up early decisions for later results.

When watching film of each Panthers game, it becomes a struggle to recognize when a run call complemented the passing game. Simply put, the Panthers’ runs do not resemble their dropback game, which makes dissecting post-snaps plays easier for defenders. Brady’s designs did not put the Panthers in enough advantageous situations either. Instead, he repeatedly asked receivers to win their respective matchup rather than scheming them open. Deceitful tools like play-action throws were a limited part of his offense as well. For example, quarterback Cam Newton used play-action only nine times over the past two weeks.

It took a body of work for Rhule to fire Brady. Carolina’s dormant offense against the Dolphins made Rhule’s decision easy. Let’s review five plays from the Panthers’ 33-10 loss to Miami that highlight why it was time for Rhule to move on from Brady.

Lack of complementary plays


Play calling is an art that requires patience and foresight. The best offensive coordinators stay ahead of their opponents by viewing football like a chessboard. For that to happen, each call must relate to another. Repeating alignments or formations during pre-snap combined with running slightly different run or pass concepts keep defenses off balance.

Here is an example of Brady not setting up a route for receiver Robby Anderson. The Panthers faced a first down with Newton in shotgun. Anderson motioned from right to left, shifting the formation to a balanced two-by-two look. Dolphins’ nickel defender Eric Rowe followed him, signaling man coverage. At the snap, Anderson runs a wheel route by breaking out and then up the left sideline.

This second-quarter play was probably designed just for Anderson to run an out route based on his lack of urgency. Once Newton evaded a decaying pocket, Anderson turned upfield to break open. Eventually, Anderson opens on the sideline but this play is called back for holding.

Though Anderson’s route appears to be a two-way go, meaning he can break in or out, Rowe’s inside wasn’t threatened because Newton opens left and locks onto Anderson. Also, before this call, Anderson had not crossed the middle of the field on any route.


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