The Las Vegas Raiders open the 2020 season in less than a week, traveling across the country to face a Carolina Panthers team in the first year of a redesign. The Panthers fired Ron Rivera after nine seasons and hired Matt Rhule, whose only job in the NFL came as an assistant offensive line coach with the New York Giants in 2012.
It doesn’t mean Rhule won’t be successful, I’m just highlighting the degree to which the organization has shifted course.
Rhule hired Joe Brady to be his offensive coordinator, one of the few coaches at the level of head coach or coordinator who may be more of an unknown than the guy who hired him. Brady is 31 and spent last season as the passing game coordinator for LSU after two seasons as an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints; if you don’t follow college at all, LSU won the national championship on the back of an historically dominant passing season by Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow.
I suppose in a way it’ll be worth monitoring their success at the NFL level without each other.
Brady’s offense has switched out a quarterback who finished 32nd in DVOA with one who finished ninth, albeit in only five starts and with an incredible supporting cast and coaching. In addition to Cam Newton, other Week 1 starters from 2019 who are now gone include right guard Trai Turner, tight end Greg Olsen and left tackle Daryl Williams. Whether or not their replacements are upgrades is up to the future but they’ve also added receiver Robby Anderson, a former player of Rhule’s at Temple.
These players are of course not facing off against each other. These are not matchups. Only comparisons. It can be difficult to ascertain “matchups” anyway, especially when we have no data for the 2020 season, but after looking at the offenses and defenses we can begin to grasp the full picture.
Raiders QB - Derek Carr
Panthers QB - Teddy Bridgewater
There had to have been internal discussions about bringing Bridgewater to Las Vegas this offseason but ultimately the Raiders opted to sign Marcus Mariota as camp competition rather than getting a full-fledged starter. Which is at least what Carolina views him as for now.
Players are long gone. Except for Teddy Bridgewater. pic.twitter.com/guFLoHvbWJ— Bill Voth (@PanthersBill) August 22, 2020
Among QBs who started at least eight games last season, only one QB had fewer completed air yards per completion than Drew Brees, who was at 5.3. Brees excels with short-to-intermediate passes and that’s what Brees can do. Bridgewater filled in for Brees in the same offense and averaged 4.8 completed air yards per completion. That would’ve tied Mason Rudolph for the lowest CAY/C in the NFL.
Bridgewater left an offense with an elite offensive line and the best receiver in the NFL to join the Panthers.
On the other side, Carr too has left plenty to be desired during his tenure as a starter. Even as some of his numbers have improved under Jon Gruden, his CAY/C was 5.4, same as 2019 Carolina starter Kyle Allen, Joe Flacco, and Cardinals rookie Kyler Murray.
Air yards aren’t everything, just like nothing is everything, but if you can’t do something else great, you won’t be left with anything.
Raiders RB - Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard
Panthers RB - Christian McCaffrey, Mike Davis
Among my guesses for what will happen this season is that Josh Jacobs will lead the NFL in rushing yards. Last season, McCaffrey led the NFL in total yards and touchdowns. This is a talented position on both sides.
Leonard Fournette has broken 97 tackles in his NFL career.— PFF (@PFF) August 31, 2020
Rookie Josh Jacobs broke 69 last year. pic.twitter.com/HR63MuJMTs
One area that McCaffrey struggled in last season was yards after contact. His 3.0 yards before contact ranked first among running backs who had at least 150 carries. Even including part-time backs, he’s third behind San Francisco’s Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. But after reaching the next level, he was taken down. His 1.8 yards per run after contact ranked in a tie for 37th with Breida, Phillip Lindsay and Jamaal Williams.
McCaffrey has been exceptional in other ways, catching 116 passes for 1,005 yards last season. As a runner, I think Jacobs is the better of the two. It’s now time to monitor how Jacobs will progress as a receiver, an area that the team has spent a lot of time discussing as a future aspect of his game.
Raiders WR - Henry Ruggs, Hunter Renfrow, Bryan Edwards, Nelson Agholor
Panthers WR - DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, Curtis Samuel, Seth Roberts
Ordering here in number of assumed targets in this game on my part, which is virtually certain to be proven wrong. Rather than get hung up on the order, here’s a reasonable top four receiving options on either team.
Rhule: “think Robby [Anderson] has had a fantastic camp. He takes great care of his body and I think he’s going to have a really good year for us. He has an explosive factor. He comes in every day with a plan and is playing at a high level right now.”— Schuyler Callihan (@Callihan_) September 7, 2020
Moore managed to be productive with Allen, but it came at the expense of Allen throwing seven interceptions over the 112 attempts he had to Moore. In general, throwing to Moore probably had a net negative value over the course of the season. How much will that improve with Bridgewater? It could be considerable or minimal. Samuel also struggled connecting with Allen last season as only 51.8-percent of Allen’s throws to Samuel were completed. Both players seemed stuck with their quarterback options in the last two years and are hoping for better days with Bridgewater.
The #Raiders released their Week 1 depth chart.— Tashan Reed (@tashanreed) September 8, 2020
New starters on offense: WR Henry Ruggs III and WR Bryan Edwards.
New starters on defense: DT Maliek Collins, MLB Nick Kwiatkoski, WLB Cory Littleton, CB Damon Arnette.
The Raiders are hoping for the best. Hoping for the best from their two draft picks, the positive signs in training camp from their free agent signing and an advanced rate of growth from a surprising rookie of a year ago.
Raiders TE - Darren Waller, Jason Witten
Panthers TE - Chris Manhertz, Ian Thomas
These two offensive philosophies couldn’t be any more split on how to use tight ends. Waller had 46 more targets than any of his teammates last season and another 44 went to Foster Moreau and Derek Carrier. With those two back and Witten added to the mix, Las Vegas plans to be a tight end type of offense.
Carolina may not even have Ian Thomas for Week 1 and that would only leave them with Manhertz and Colin Thompson, a player who was released on Saturday and re-signed on Monday. The Panthers probably won’t utilize the tight end much this year.
Raiders OL - Kolton Miller-Richie Incognito-Rodney Hudson-Gabe Jackson-Trent Brown
Panthers OL - Russell Okung-Dennis Daley-Matt Paradis-John Miller-Taylor Moton
Carolina’s offensive line might even be one of their stronger units and the coaches will be hoping for some improvement to come from a change at quarterback and offensive philosophy. Panthers offensive line coach Pat Meyers was with the LA Chargers last season and has already plucked three players, including Okung, from his line from 2019.
Both the Pat Stewart and OL coach Pat Meyer influences have been noticeable. Panthers offensive line now has four players that played for Meyer elsewhere. https://t.co/NPEtF0ryeF— Alaina Getzenberg (@agetzenberg) September 6, 2020
The Raiders could have a top-five offensive line if Miller takes another step forward and Brown gets more comfortable with the offense.