The Carolina Panthers could have a much-improved offensive line in 2020 despite plenty of uncertainty heading into training camp.
The Carolina Panthers finished 2019 with a very mediocre offensive line. On one hand, they paved the way for All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey to have an all-time great season. On the other, the unit allowed their quarterback to be sacked 58 times, which was tied with the Miami Dolphins for most in the league.
The biggest change that the Panthers made to the offensive line this offseason was adding tackle Russell Okung in a trade that sent former right guard Trai Turner to the Los Angeles Chargers. Okung should be a noteworthy upgrade to the left side that will be responsible for protecting starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Perhaps the most significant improvement doesn’t involve the offensive line personnel at all. Carolina will be undergoing a complete shift in offensive philosophy and scheme in 2020.
First-year offensive coordinator Joe Brady has suggested that he will focus on getting his team the ball in space. Since his best two players McCaffrey and wide receiver, D.J. Moore excel in the short-to-intermediate passing game. It would make sense that the fortunes revolve around Bridgewater getting the ball out quickly to his standout playmakers.
This will definitely help the offensive line chances of becoming a cohesive unit. Problems tend to arise the longer the quarterback has the ball in his hands. Bridgewater is much less likely to run around and try to extend plays with his legs like former Panthers’ franchise signal-caller Cam Newton did.
While this often led to Newton making some of the most exciting plays in the NFL. It also ensured the player took some unnecessary hits and sacks that plagued the 2015 MVP with injuries during his final two years in Carolina.
The scheme shifting to a quick passing game and Okung anchoring the left side of the line should result in an overall much improved offensive line for Carolina in 2020.
Pro Football Focus ranks Carolina Panthers offensive line No. 17 overall
Pro Football Focus released its offensive line rankings for the 2020 season. They focus on using analytics to unbiasedly grade NFL and college football players. PFF grade each player on every single play throughout the season regardless of if the individual is directly involved or not. They then assign a simple 0-to-100 grading scale based on performance.
Since most fans focus on the ball carrier when watching a game, the offensive line can often be forgotten. This is the main reason why PFF’s offensive line rankings so interesting.
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It helps to put the importance of the big men upfront into perspective. The teams that are routinely playing postseason football are not so coincidentally those with the best protection for their respective quarterbacks.
This year PFF ranked the Panthers as the No. 17 best offensive line in the NFL. This is about as smack dab in the middle of the pack as they can possibly be.
While they believe that the edge of the line is improved. They state that the interior is a major weakness.
Right tackle Taylor Moton is the only Panthers lineman that ended 2019 with a PFF rating above 70. Every other starting lineman received 64 or lower. This includes Okung and former Pro Bowl center Matt Paradis.
While there are some notable concerns, the analytics fail to grasp that the Panthers are completely changing their offensive scheme and playcalling this year. Carolina is set up to run the ball and execute on short passing plays. And this should be easier from a protection perspective compared to longer calls that take time to develop.
There is definitely some room to improve upfront for Carolina. But they should do much better than the league-worst 58 sacks that they gave up a season ago.