Does Sam Darnold starting represent Ben McAdoo’s final warning?

(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Ben McAdoo and Sam Darnold
(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports) Ben McAdoo and Sam Darnold /

Sam Darnold starting for the Carolina Panthers represents a final warning for offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo to get things right in Week 12. 

One could argue that the Carolina Panthers had no real choice other than to install Sam Darnold as their starting quarterback once again. Baker Mayfield was once again inept during a disappointing loss at the Baltimore Ravens, which looks to be the last straw for interim head coach Steve Wilks as he looks to convince team owner David Tepper he’s worthy of the job long-term.

Darnold hasn’t seen any competitive action in 2022 after suffering a high ankle sprain before the campaign. The Panthers took their time with the former USC standout, but Wilks now feels the time is right for the signal-caller to get his own shot after so much inconsistent production.

Whether Darnold is capable of making strides is anyone’s guess. This will be the best offensive line he’s ever played behind, but his suspect decision-making and poor footwork leave little confidence things can get better in Week 12 against a strong Denver Broncos defense.

Sam Darnold starting represents final chance for Ben McAdoo

This alteration also represents something of a final warning for Ben McAdoo. The offensive coordinator has been criticized heavily for his play-calling this season, which is a far cry from the rockstar Tepper wanted after Matt Rhule opted to fire Joe Brady midway through the 2021 bye week.

McAdoo wasn’t Mayfield’s most prominent fan during his pre-draft assessments. He was a little higher on Darnold, but the former New York Giants head coach was skeptical about the player’s mechanics and this remains one of the primary factors holding the fifth-year-pro back.

Darnold has the arm talent and the weapons around him to succeed. This is providing McAdoo opens up the playbook and starts getting more creative while also focusing heavily on the running attack.

If McAdoo cannot get the job done efficiently with Darnold under center, then Wilks has a huge decision to make over the bye week. Does he keep faith with McAdoo or go in a completely different direction with five games remaining?

Asking an offense to completely change strategy so late in the season is risky. Rhule found that out to his cost, but Wilks might not have anything to lose given he’s not guaranteed the head coaching gig beyond 2022.

Regardless of whether McAdoo and Darnold hit it off, neither is expected to be back in Carolina next year. The potential for a new coach with a different staff is great and the Panthers could also go for a complete reset at quarterback if they put themselves in a position to select either Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud.

Looking too far ahead is not in the current remit of Darnold, Wilks, or McAdoo. However, the short-term successor to Rhule has shown no hesitation in removing coaches if he feels like it can benefit the franchise, so the pressure is on his offensive play-caller in no uncertain terms.

The Broncos might not be reaching the heights anticipated after a busy offseason, but that does not detract from what an exceptional defense Carolina is facing on Sunday. This is a challenge that McAdoo must be ready for in pursuit of seeing out the campaign.

Removing McAdoo with another poor showing would be a massive call for Wilks. However, it’s something that cannot be ruled out entirely.

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