The Future of the Panthers Defense
It’s a new era in Charlotte now with a whole new staff. In 2019, the Panthers defense was pedestrian under Ron Rivera and Eric Washington. Now Matt Rhule steps in as head coach, a former linebacker and a guy with plenty of experience defensively. One of his first hires was defensive coordinator, Phil Snow. He had been with Rhule at Baylor and Temple even before that. This familiarity with each other is huge for their transitions into the league. Snow has plenty of experience with a lot of different teams including Baylor, Temple, Eastern Michigan, Arizona, Cal, Washington, UCLA, Boise State, 3 high school teams, and the Detroit Lions. He has coached linebackers a few times, but specializes in coaching DBs. In 2019 Baylor surprised everyone by making the BIG XII Championship game and making a New Year’s Six game against Georgia. Their offense was potent throughout, but they were very opportunistic on defense. To see how this Rhule-Snow defense will transfer over into the NFL I looked at some of the things they did at Baylor and at Temple.
The BIG XII is notorious for having explosive offenses and some very poor defenses. With the whole idea of the spread and air raid offenses I believe this to be true. As a whole, the BIG XII has transitioned to putting a lot more speed on defense by simply putting more DBs on the field. This resulted in a lot more 3 man fronts. Take a look at the formation they use here on the first play against Oklahoma.
The 3 standup lineman, Bravvion Roy, James Lynch, and James Lockhart are run stopping players with the average size of all 3 being 6-2 297. This was important since they would be so important to them not getting gashed in the run game. In 2019 they were in 3 man fronts a lot (their DL didn’t typically standup), but were not as much in 2018. Most of the time they were in dime with very versatile players in the secondary. Instead of your typical dime packages with a nickel safety on each side of the center, they only had 1 slot player and kept 3 safeties deep a lot of the time.
This allows for them to work in a lot of late rotations and shifts between the 6 secondary players and 2 linebackers. More specifically like in the clip they are able to play a cover 2 look, but it’s an easy drop for the rat in the hole. With the linebackers and the DBs closer to the line of scrimmage Snow was able to get very creative with twists and stunts to get pressure off the edge. They were also able to get some nice pressures with Bravvion Roy and James Lynch simply defeating their guy. Like I noted, they are able to do so much on the back end with having 6 DBs. Snow coached DBs so why not let him put 6 out on the field, right? They went to a lot of cover 1 looks with a robber underneath. Teams never really knew who the robber was and this led to a lot of turnovers for them. The defense also implemented a lot of different zone coverages and often pattern matched their zones which turned it into man coverage eventually.
In the same game against Oklahoma, they contained Hurts by using a QB spy, more than one on some plays. This unique form of defense worked for Rhule and Snow at the collegiate level because of the versatility it brought. Let’s take a look at how it might translate into the NFL.
The 3-3-5 defense has an intriguing fit in the NFL as it has worked in college against these pass heavy offenses. For many offenses in the league they are airing it out more and it is coming the best way to run an offense. However, teams in the NFL are way more physical than those in college and I don’t think it could translate on an every down basis because of the way some teams can pound the ball. It would also affect the way the Panthers would have to build their roster with much more corners and safeties and less defensive lineman and linebackers. It is important to know that this defense is new to Phil Snow and he has been apart of many other schematic defenses in his time. I think that mixing this style in, especially on third down, would be a good thing for the Panthers, but running it as the base scheme won’t work. I don’t expect them to run it, but if they did I don’t think there’s a clear role for an edge rusher in it like Brian Burns. It is not likely that they copy and paste the Baylor defense scheme into the NFL and if they do I think it should only be used sparingly. As free agency and the draft approaches I’ll be interested to see what moves they make in order to fit the defense, whatever it is.