Carolina Panthers Should Consider Bringing Steve Wilks Back

Steve Wilks
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 09: Head coach Steve Wilks of the Arizona Cardinals walks on the field during warm ups for the NFL game against the Detroit Lions at State Farm Stadium on December 09, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Ian Rapoport of reported that Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera‘s job would be safe at seasons end and it proved to be true. Owner David Tepper trusts Rivera to lead the team back to a winning record in 2019. The Panthers finished the 2018 season 7-9 and will be selecting 16th overall in the 2019 draft barring any trades.

While there are holes on the roster to address, the coaching staff also needs to be re-evaluated. The Panthers started the year off with Eric Washington serving as defensive coordinator but Rivera eventually took over the defensive play calling in Week 13. Former Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks was fired by the Arizona Cardinals on December 31st posing the question of whether or not the two parties should reunite.

Making a Case for A Steve Wilks Renuion In Carolina

Desperate Need for an Upgrade

While the Panthers defense finished in the middle of the pack in most categories, the team really struggled in a few areas in 2018. Carolina allowed six yards per play, fifth-worst in the NFL. As a team, they compiled only 35 sacks which ranked sixth worst in the league. Carolina allowed the fifth-most passing touchdowns (32) and gave up 45 touchdowns in comparison to 2017’s total of 32.

Carolina finished with 23 turnovers, good for 14th in the NFL. However, they had stretches where they went flat, like during the seven-game losing streak. The defense gave up 12 plays of 40+ yards during the season, sixth-worst in the league. Additionally, Carolina allowed the eighth highest completion percentage, 66.7%, and quarterback rating, 99.6.

Coaching isn’t the only reason for these subpar ranks. Carolina needs to get younger and bolster their depth over the off-season. That said, the playcalling and scheme play a big factor too. The Panthers defense lined up in zone coverage 51.7% of the time which was seventh-most in the NFL. They only played man coverage 34.2% of the time which was seventh-fewest in the NFL. Both Donte Jackson and James Bradberry are very capable man-coverage corners but the Panthers lacked a reliable nickel corner that could play man-to-man, leading to a zone-heavy scheme. The zone-heavy scheme has worked during the Rivera era. However, with a different group of defensive backs, it may be time to change philosophy.

By the Numbers

In 2017 under Wilks, the Panthers had a much better defense statistically across the board. They allowed only 5.3 yards per play, finished the season with 50 sacks and allowed almost half the number of rushing touchdowns (7) they did in 2018 (13).

Wilks’ defense allowed a completion percentage of 63.8% and a quarterback rating of 92.9. They allowed only 327 points compared to this year’s 382 and allowed 577 fewer total yards. And with a similar defensive lineup outside of Kurt Coleman, Star Lotulilei and Daryl Worley, it was a headscratcher to why the defense regressed so much.

It sounds like Rivera wants Washington to stay on his coaching staff, but not as defensive coordinator. Reuniting Wilks and Rivera would take the playcalling pressure off Rivera’s hands and veteran defensive players will have a coordinator they are familiar with and can trust. Plus, Wilks’ can use his experience to present new ideas and philosophies to Rivera.

It’s worth mentioning veteran players in Arizona liked Steve Wilks. With guys like Larry Fitzgerald, Tre Boston, Benson Mayowa and Mike Iupati set to be free agents in 2019, the Panthers would have a considerably better shot at filling a positional need with any of those players if Wilks is on their coaching staff. Eric Reid and Mike Adams may not return at the safety position, the Panthers will most likely let Devin Funchess walk in free agency and the defensive end and offensive line positions need any help they can get. Wilks reuniting with Carolina makes a lot of sense for both parties and it’s an idea that should be explored by the Panthers front office this off-season.

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