After a four-game losing streak that saw them allow 126 points in four games and culminate with a loss to division rival Tampa Bay, who were previously 4-7, on the road to drop their record to 6-6 and on the precipice of a wild-card playoff spot, the Panthers have decided to take action by relieving defensive line coach Brady Hoke and assistant secondary/cornerbacks coach Jeff Imamura of their duties, effective immediately, the team announced Monday.
After Head Coach Ron Rivera said that he “helped” with the defensive playcalling yesterday in Tampa Bay, which may have changed the aperture of the defensive performance as the team allowed over 200 net yards in the first half and just over 100 in the second and limited the Bucs to a single touchdown after halftime, he will maintain that duty for the rest of the season as first-year defensive coordinator Eric Washington will oversee the front seven, with Sam Mills III taking over the defensive line.
“We’ve got take a look and see what we’re doing and see if we’ve got to change some things up; that’s what we do,” Rivera said after the Panthers third straight loss last Monday. “We look at what we did, if it’s working, we want to continue to improve on it [and] if it’s not working, we get rid of it and find something else that does. That’s really what happens.”
Rivera will work with Richard Rodgers in the secondary – Rodgers and Imamura took over when former secondary coach Curtis Fuller resigned after an internal investigation of workplace misconduct; the Panthers ranked 22nd in terms of pass defense under the two assistants in 2018.
Hoke, who was a former head coach at the University of Michigan, oversaw a defensive line group that had only 20 sacks through 12 games – that group, with much of the same personnel, had 40 through the 2017 season; while the sack numbers and quarterback pressures were down, the rush defense remained intact, as the team is allowed just over 96 yards per game after 88 last season.
However, Rivera, Washington and players have pointed to gap discipline as being the issue when their run defense broke down.
“In my judgment, I felt this was best for the team moving forward,” Rivera said. “These are always difficult decisions, and I thank Brady and Jeff for their hard work. Ultimately, I’m charged with putting the team in the best position to succeed, and I felt these moves were necessary in order to do that.”
Imamura was in his second year with the Panthers.
The Panthers play the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at 1p – the Browns have not allowed a sack in three games, but turned the ball over four times in a loss to the Texans in Week 13; the Panthers have forced only one turnover – a recovered fumble – during their four-game losing streak.