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Why is the Panthers offense under Joe Brady so bad in the third quarter?

The Panthers last eight games show a concerning trend of ineffective halftime offensive adjustments.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Look, I like coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady. This isn’t a hit piece. I believe in both of them and want them to succeed.

They are still new to the NFL. In their brief time in Carolina they’ve dealt with a pandemic, changed quarterbacks, attempted to sew together a patchwork offensive line, and have barely been able to use Christian McCaffrey. They’ve stepped into a rebuild, and that’s never easy. But...(and there’s always a “but”).

But...over the last eight games the Panthers offense has been terrible in the third quarter, producing just 17 total points over that stretch. Behold the carnage:

Panthers third quarter performance

Year Week Opponent Panthers Pts Opponent Pts
Year Week Opponent Panthers Pts Opponent Pts
2020 14 Broncos 3 12
2020 15 Packers 7 0
2020 16 Football Team 0 3
2020 17 Saints 0 10
2021 1 Jets 0 8
2021 2 Saints 0 0
2021 3 Texans 7 0
2021 4 Cowboys 0 20
Total 17 53

That’s an average of 2.1 points per third quarter, or just over eight points per game at that rate. To get even more granular, Carolina’s offense has scored an anemic seven points over their last six third quarters. That’s not just bad, it’s confounding, especially considering the Panthers still went 4-4 over those eight games.

Halftime adjustments?

What’s concerning about the Panthers poor offensive showing in the third quarter is that it’s happening right after Matt Rhule and Joe Brady have presumably just made their halftime adjustments. Now, I’ve never been in an NFL locker room during halftime, but I doubt there’s ample time to summon the troops, pull out a chalkboard, and give a lengthy Norman Dale Hoosiers-type speech that produces second half miracles.

That said, during halftime both Rhule and Brady should have enough time to align on what worked and what didn’t work during the first half. They should enter the third quarter with a more clear idea of strategies, schemes, and mismatches. They should be able to make subtle but effective adjustments.

Their opposing defensive coordinators have been doing the same, and as of late their opponents have been doing it much better.

Concerning trend or statistical anomaly?

Carolina’s offense has scored 161 points over their last eight games. As we’ve already noted, only 17 of those points came in the third quarter, meaning the Panthers offense has scored 144 points in the first, second, and fourth quarters.

On average, Carolina’s offense has averaged 2.1 points in the third quarter compared to exactly six points in all other quarters. It’s not that Panthers offense can’t score, it’s that they just don’t in the third quarter.

I don’t know exactly what this means, though. Maybe it’s just one of those weird stats that will correct itself over time. Or, perhaps, it’s a reflection of two coaches who are new to the NFL and are simply getting outcoached by their counterparts during halftime. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a little of both.

If you’re wondering why I’m going easy on defensive coordinator Phil Snow it’s because the defense had been solid in the third quarter before the Cowboys’ recent 20-point explosion. The defense’s performance is even more impressive when considering Carolina’s offense has done almost nothing to help them out with field position and time of possession.

Like I said earlier, I’m a fan of both Rhule and Brady, but the results are what they are. While I trust both of them, I’m also going to continue closely watching how things play out in the third quarter over the next few weeks. Hopefully this is just a statistical fluke that quickly corrects itself, but if it doesn’t then we’ll need to hope the Panthers young coaching staff can mature in time along with their young team.