Panthers Need Their Receivers
The Panthers managed to put up 23 points on the 49ers, but the offense’s performance was anything but pretty. Cam Newton only threw 24 passes in last week’s victory, among the lowest totals in his career. Newton was rusty for the entire first half, at times looking like he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with some passes. His worst miss was overthrowing a wide open Ed Dickson in the end zone that directly cost the team points. But everyone expected Cam to struggle. After all, he’d only thrown two passes in the entire preseason after undergoing shoulder surgery a few months before. And, Newton rebounded significantly, completing all six of his passes after halftime.
The wide receivers struggles are a different story.
Cam Newton may have been conservative with his sore shoulder, but for whatever reason, Panthers wide receivers were only targeted eight times the entire game on Sunday. Eight. Rookie running back Christian McCaffery was thrown at seven times, for a little perspective. It may have been the Panthers game plan to feature McCaffery heavily during the game, and offensive coordinator Mike Shula was prominently running in the fourth quarter after the game had gotten out of hand, presumably to give Newton’s shoulder a break. There is still no excuse for the Panthers featuring their receivers so little throughout the course of the game.
Carolina has some underrated receivers on their roster, as Kelvin Benjamin has two seasons of at least 60 catches under his belt and Devin Funchess is a tall red zone threat with some untapped potential. Russell Shepard, virtually unknown outside of Carolina and Tampa Bay, showed off his talent with a fantastic 40 yard touchdown in which he left a defensive back eating his dust after a nasty spin move. Shepard finished with 56 yards receiving Sunday, good for the most on the team. Curtis Samuel and Damiere Byrd are two speedsters that only saw the field for around 15 snaps each, and weren’t given any real opportunity to show what they could do. The Panthers have the personnel to do some damage from the wide receiver position, but they neglected to utilize these players in any significant way during the game on Sunday.
Throwing the ball just eight times to the wide receivers might work against a weak team like San Francisco, but when Carolina plays tougher opponents like the Patriots in week four or even the Bills next week, the receivers will need to be more prominent figures in the game plan. These players need to be given chances to make plays or the Panthers offense will turn into a stagnant and anemic attack relegated to check downs and running plays. Carolina needs explosiveness if they are going to have offensive success in 2017, and the only way to do this is by throwing the ball downfield to the wide receivers. Cam’s shoulder may not be at full strength, but the Panthers need to cut him loose soon so he can gain a little more rapport with his receiving corps.
The Panthers offense may have evolved with the addition of McCaffery, but the wide receivers need to be a bigger part of the offense if Carolina is going to succeed.