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The Day After: No easy answers


CHARLOTTE — Panthers head coach Matt Rhule got plenty of questions about his offense Monday.

When you pull your starting quarterback near the end of a fourth straight loss, and your team is mentioned in trade rumors, that's what's going to happen.

But whether it was Sam Darnold, offensive coordinator Joe Brady, the offensive line, or the lack of a promised running game, there was one thing Rhule was sure of.

"I don't know that anything that's happening is going to be solved by any one move," Rhule said. "It's really easy when you see five things being done right and one struggling, then you fix it there. But when everything's not to the standard you want, all I know is to keep working.

"We're trying to build a championship team, and a team that competes to go to the Super Bowl. We're trying to build it. We don't have it. We're trying to build it. That's this process we're going through and the mentality and culture we're trying to create of not making excuses, not looking at other people and everyone controlling themselves."

That's not the kind of silver bullet that will appease angry fans or fix everything at once, but it's clear the Panthers offense at the moment is a complicated problem.

They looked competent in the first three games with Christian McCaffrey on the field. Less so in the four he's missed. But they've also used five different combinations of starting offensive lines in seven games, and that's about to be six in eight with the injury to right guard John Miller. The recent issues also include all the drops against the Vikings.

And with reports that the Panthers are involved in discussions for quarterback Deshaun Watson (Rhule was asked several questions about it Monday), Rhule said he could only focus on what was in front of him.

"I know there's a report out there. You guys know that wasn't from me," Rhule said. "My focus is on this team. We're a 3-4 football team right now, and we've got to find a way to win this week. My focus is on learning from yesterday and getting ready for this week.

"With that being said, Sam will start at quarterback this week. I've said to you guys there's going to be some high moments and some low moments, I think how he responds this week is going to be important for him and our team."

Darnold is easy to single out, because he has played particularly poorly over the last month.

He only turned the ball over twice in the first three games. He's turned it over eight times in the last four. Again, there's a reasonable case that the presence and absence of McCaffrey has a lot to do with that, but he's not going to be back this week against the Falcons (he can't return from IR until at least Week 9), so they have to continue to work.

And that means working on everything.

Rhule was also asked about the role of offensive coordinator Joe Brady, and he said they had already met Monday morning to talk through the recent problems.

"We're looking at everything, the whys of everything," Rhule said. "I think Joe's an excellent coordinator; I think he has a good plan. I just think we have to do a lot of things better."

Asked if he was considering making a change in play-caller, Rhule replied: "I wouldn't say that's my thought right now. But we have to get something fixed. I think there's a lot of issues in execution right now. I don't look at the plays and say, why did we call that, why did we call this? I think we just have to execute a little bit better, a lot better, to be honest."

The Panthers were just 2-of-15 on third-down conversions, and they're 29th in the league in that category this season (31.6 percent) after converting just 13 of their 55 chances in the four-game losing streak. That was part of the reason they couldn't/didn't continue to run Sunday.

"You need to stay on the field and wear on people, and we're not doing any of that," Rhule said. "I said it would happen, it didn't happen, I thought we started that way, but it got away from us. That has to be better.

"With the defense we have, if we can run the football and protect the football, we'll win games. The formula is pretty simple; it's just not being executed."

And fixing it is going to take more than one move.

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