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Matt Rhule: "I disagree" with analyst's criticism of play-calling

Christian McCaffrey, Baker Mayfield

CHARLOTTE — Panthers head coach Matt Rhule defended his team's play-calling after an ESPN analyst accused them of "coaching malpractice" by being too predictable based on formation.

After former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky used a few examples of Week 2 plays based on running back Christian McCaffrey's alignment next to or behind quarterback Baker Mayfield as suggesting they always do things a certain way, Rhule ran through a number of examples of why that wasn't the case.

"I saw that," Rhule said Friday. "I've been around long enough. I've seen enough coaches get out there and say, 'Every time they do this, they're going to do this.' Then it's wrong. I disagree with it."

Rhule said that when McCaffrey's lined up "at depth," they've run the ball, gone zone-read, run RPO plays, and hit deep pass plays out of the same formation.

"It's pretty balanced," Rhule said. "If you're saying that they knew whether we were running or passing (against the Giants), I would say, 'How come we ran for 146 yards and 6.3 yards per carry?'. . .

"I respect Dan. I understand he has a job to do. He's trying to get people to watch and pay attention. The real football coach, the defensive coach in me, spends a lot of time on defense, watching other people's back sets. Saying if you know it's a run or pass or not, every play in the National Football league is a run or pass. We might say this is a 70 percent run in this formation. Still a 30 percent pass. We have to react to those things.

"We're at a time right now where people are going to take shots. I get it. Our most explosive pass play happened from that. I kind of take it and say, 'Got it; move on.' I think we're doing a lot of good things. The real story this week is winning third down and completing some more balls."

That's completely accurate, as being 6-of-23 on third downs this season (29th in the league) is a bigger deal than any perceived predictability — especially if that perception isn't based in fact.

— The Panthers practiced earlier in the day Friday, moving up the schedule a few hours and practicing at 9 a.m.

Rhule said it provided a bit of a break for players — especially after a couple of hot days practicing at midday — and allowed for more recovery time.

He said players have been diligent about their post-practice routines anyway, so going earlier in the morning just provided "an extra hour to take care of themselves."

— The Panthers continue to look at options in the return game after Chuba Hubbard put the ball on the ground twice last week.

They've had Laviska Shenault Jr. and newcomer Raheem Blackshear back there working on kickoffs this week, though Rhule said they're still looking at a number of options.

Their plans for returns were thrown into the blender when veteran Andre Roberts was placed on IR after a knee problem in Week 1, taking away one of the league's top returners.

View photos from Thursday's practice as the Panthers prepare to take on the Saints.

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