Matt Rhule doesn’t have any offensive play calling experience in the NFL, so knowing what his tendencies will be isn’t really possible. Of course, we do have some insight into his college play calling as coach of Temple for four seasons and then Baylor in the last three, both teams he turned completely around in three seasons.
Rhule’s offensive scheme in Baylor used a lot of pistol formation, which isn’t used in the NFL that often, but you sure see it a lot in the league’s No. 1 offense this year with the Ravens. Rhule’s background is as a smash-mouth coach who started out defensively minded and then turned that into a “take it to the other team” offense, where going big and wearing down the opponent on the ground was king. But when he went from Temple to Baylor, he decided to see what teams were doing with run/pass option (RPO). It allowed him to still play physically and run the ball but give more players a chance to run and find bigger holes.
The formation allows for gaping holes for running backs and running quarterbacks. It’s based on confusing offenses with multiple ways to run the ball and then hitting a barely covered receiver when teams spend too many resources trying to stop the very effective run game. Of course, Lamar Jackson’s ability along with a strong offensive line is needed, especially in the NFL.
As far as the Panthers base offense goes, it will depend on personnel, especially at quarterback. They appear to be ready to trade Cam Newton and start anew, likely grabbing a free agent and a draft pick. We can’t rule out Newton returning, and he would likely make for a good quarterback for Rhule to work with, but his injury history and usage so far in his career are question marks moving forward.
The good news is that Christian McCaffrey, who we all know to be the most versatile back in the league, would likely continue to see great usage under Rhule. College backs aren’t often asked to be true receivers who coaches look to get open through routes and isolation, but Rhule has done that for his backs and now he gets the best in the business to work with. We can’t expect McCaffrey to keep up his otherworldly usage no matter who was coaching the Panthers, as at some point he’s going to be ground into mush, but Rhule’s schemes in college would be perfect for McCaffrey as both a runner and receiver.
If Rhule were to lean on RPO, we might not see as many targets for D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, but we would likely see more efficiency and big plays, where both excel. Rhule isn’t a Chip Kelly type of coach ready to come in and change the NFL, but he cuts the fat and preaches doing the things that work, not just doing the things that we’ve always done.
He could easily change up a lot based on personnel, which is usually for the best. But if Cam Newton is traded away, he will get a big say in who they bring in at quarterback and would get time for a rebuild. The Panthers have three top offensive weapons that he will need to use well to get his offense moving. His goal to start will be to get them gaining yards and I expect he can accomplish that sooner than later.