The Panthers are entering a make-or-break season in Matt Rhule’s third season under frustrated owner David Tepper, and a third straight season with five wins will be the end of his tenure. Rhule started to feel the heat last season when he fired OC Joe Brady with five games remaining in the season. The Panthers ended up averaging the third-fewest yards per game (298.9) and the fourth-fewest points per game (17.9), which was the team’s worst output since the Panthers averaged 258.4 YPA and 12.3 PPG with Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore at the trigger in 2010. Rhule didn’t exactly have the A-list candidates lining up for Carolina’s open OC job since he’s viewed as a potential lame-duck coach. With nowhere else to go, Rhule turned to his Giants/Tom Coughlin ties and hired McAdoo after passing him over for smaller gigs in each of the last two off-seasons.
McAdoo doesn’t have the most flattering public image because he wore an oversized suit to his Giants’ introductory press conference and because he dared to bench a washed-up Eli Manning near the tail end of his playing career. The last act ended Eli’s streak of 210 consecutive starts and the Giants’ ownership didn’t appreciate the move, firing McAdoo in early December 2017 after their first game without Eli in the starting lineup since 2004. The Giants went from an 11-5 playoff team in 2016 to a 2-10 record at the time of his firing in 2017, and New York’s offense scored the second-fewest points per game (15.4) with Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall combining to play just nine games.
McAdoo’s 2016 squad is still the only Giants team to win double-digit games and to reach the postseason in the last decade. He’s had just one full-time coaching gig since he was fired, working with Gardner Minshew and the Jaguars QBs during their 1-15 campaign in 2020. He spent last season working as a consultant under long-time mentor and fellow Western Pennsylvania native Mike McCarthy before landing his newest gig. McAdoo has a lot of work in front of him to turn around Sam Darnold and this offense with their fifth-year QB due to make $18.9 million guaranteed this season.
The Ben McAdoo File
Playcalling Experience: Giants (2013-17)
Other Coaching Experience: Giants HC (2016-17), Giants OC (2014-15), Packers QBs (2012-13), Jaguars QBs (2020)
Offensive Coaches Worked Under: Mike McCarthy (2004-13), Jay Gruden (2020)
Notable: 13-15 record (0-1 postseason) as Giants HC, Super Bowl champion as Packers TEs coach in 2010
Potential Offensive Changes
Rhule started his tenure with a big splashy hire of Brady, who coordinated LSU’s prolific passing attack during their 2019 title season with Joe Burrow, Justin Jefferson, and Ja’Marr Chase. The fate of the rest of his tenure could hinge on McAdoo, a move that didn’t exactly move the needle this off-season. McAdoo may be viewed as a bit of a buffoon but he at least created some fantasy-friendly environments for his offenses during his Giants’ tenure. New York ranked 28th in total offense in Kevin Gilbride’s final season as the team’s playcaller in 2013, but McAdoo transformed the offense into a top-10 unit in 2014-15, which earned him the head job in 2016.
McAdoo’s offenses operated at a blistering pace with Manning at the helm in 2014-17. The Giants finished in the top-seven in overall pace (seconds in between plays) in all four seasons in New York. It’s no surprise then that they finished first (2016) or second (2014, 2015, 2017) in no-huddle rates in each of his four seasons as the playcaller. The Panthers finished 17th in overall pace and 11th in no-huddle rate (10.9%) with Brady and Darnold mostly running the show last season. The Giants ran the eighth most plays per game (65.6) from 2014-17 while the 2020-21 Panthers ranked 17th in plays per game (63.6). New York also led the NFL in 11 personnel usage during McAdoo’s four-year run with the Giants. The Panthers could utilize more three-WR sets this season after using 11 personnel 66% of the time (11th-most) last season. McAdoo’s Giants distributed targets to the different position groups right around the league average, with WRs seeing 58.5% of the targets, TEs seeing 21.5%, and RBs seeing 20.0% in 2014-17.
Players about whom we’re feeling more optimistic based on the playcaller changes.
D.J. Moore (WR) — Moore will remain the go-to WR in McAdoo’s new offense, and he’s hoping to get a taste of the success that Odell Beckham experienced when he broke into the league with the Giants in 2014. McAdoo’s roots are in West Coast offenses, which he learned under McCarthy, and that means quicker drops for Darnold this season. Moore will be getting the ball into his hands a little quicker and potentially in space like he was able to do with OBJ, and Moore is capable in the open field with a career average of 5.5 YAC. OBJ also scored 35 times in his first three seasons under McAdoo before missing most of the 2017 season. Moore needs all the help he can get to find paydirt as he’s yet to score more than four times in a season with 14 touchdowns through four years. It’s tough to get too excited about Moore as long as Darnold is at quarterback, but there’s a chance he’s at least used more optimally as a weapon after the catch compared to Brady’s desire to turn him into more of a vertical threat.
Terrace Marshall (WR) — Marshall had a lost rookie season after the Panthers selected him in the second round and after a promising preseason. Marshall ended up finishing with more receiving yards in three preseason games (181) than he had in 13 regular season performances (138) in 2021, but there’s some hope he’ll have a bigger role heading into his second season. The Giants used 11 personnel more than any other team during McAdoo’s four-year tenure in New York. Marshall owned just a 48% snap share last season and he fell into a timeshare with Brandon Zylstra (39%) in the middle of the season before he saw an uptick in playing time when the Panthers were out of contention in Weeks 15-16. The Panthers are still candidates to add a wide receiver in free agency or during the draft, but Marshall at least has the chance to see the field more if the WR corps isn’t significantly altered.
Players whom we’re not ready to upgrade or downgrade, but their situations demand monitoring based on playcaller changes.
Tommy Tremble (TE) — I’d love to be more optimistic about the second-year TE Tremble but the Panthers handed Ian Thomas a puzzling contract extension in late February. Carolina re-signed Thomas to a three-year, $16.5 million contract with $8 million guaranteed, which is a pretty nice pay raise for PFF’s worst graded TE from last season. Carolina’s TEs saw the fewest targets per game (3.5) under Brady and Jeff Nixon in 2020-21 with just 116 total targets going to Panthers’ TEs, but that could change with McAdoo running the offense. Giants’ TEs saw the ninth-most targets per game (8.1) from 2014-17 with 520 total targets, and that’s even with the likes of Will Tye and Larry Donnell leading the group until Evan Engram arrived in 2017. Tremble has a chance to be a more active receiver this season, but he’s going to be competing for snaps with Thomas in an offense that’s likely to use a lot of 11 personnel.