Under his watch the charge for Ron Rivera as a coach is that he makes decisions so the Panthers wont lose, rather than press for a win. In the last two weeks we've seen Rivera call gutsy 4th-and-1 plays when his team had everything to lose. He's finally getting it, and it's great to see.
Scott Fowler wrote of Rivera's shift in an excellent article for the Charlotte Observer, and it's impossible to disagree with what Fowler says.
Inherently wired to trust his defense by virtue of his coaching and playing background, Rivera has started to take more risks with his offense. This trust has empowered the locker room and seems to have particularly resonated with quarterback Cam Newton, who is a "confidence" player and for all his talent also needs to be reassured often that his coaching staff has faith in him.
Fowler is dead on the money here. Making Cam Newton a focal point has proven to be a difference maker in recent weeks. The Panthers' quarterback has been trusted to make plays himself -- rather than play second fiddle to the defense. It's not that Carolina's defense isn't good, it's that too often they've been asked to make one final stop, and failed.
There have been offensive struggles too, namely in the Arizona game where Rivera's risk didn't pay dividends when Brandon LaFell dropped a short pass in his bread basket. The assumption was that the Panthers' coach would pull his head back in, turtle up when the risk presented itself again -- but against the Vikings he asked Mike Shula to call two plays on 4th-and-1, the result was a Carolina Panthers' touchdown.
"It's about trying to make a statement," Rivera said of his fourth-down risks on Monday. "And it's probably also honestly one of the things that I've learned. Sometimes you play by the book and you miss opportunities. It's been an enlightening situation for me. One of the things that I want to try to do is to make sure we are in the best position to win. And the other realization is kicking field goals is obviously not good enough."
The need for aggression has finally seeped in. It became old hat to see the Panthers lose a close game only to hear Rivera dance around the topic on Monday, saying the right things about the need to push the tempo without ever seeing a result -- with his job on the line Rivera finally gets it.
There will be times this play fails. Newton will throw picks and make ill advised throws, it's who he is as a passer. Sometimes the running backs will hit a wall, but at least it's exciting. Newton is finally being trusted to make plays, and if that doesn't happen it's unclear whether Carolina get three touchdowns against Minnesota, or settle once again for three field goals.
It might not be enough to save his job in Carolina, but it seems Ron Rivera has finally learned from his mistakes.