Believe it or not, Panthers WRs will give Broncos defense a hard time

I’m sure the Carolina Panthers wide receivers have heard it a number of ways and a countless number of times. The Panthers receivers are nothing more than supporting actors in the Cam Newton Show or something. The story is well-worn.

Rising-star WR Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL in training camp, leaving Carolina without any hope through the air. The Panthers run the ball really well.  Newton loves to throw to his stud tight end, Greg Olsen. Occasionally veteran fast guy Ted Ginn Jr. catches a go route. And that’s about it.

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Or is it?

Yes, the offense is highly dependent on Newton and the run game, and a tight end is actually the Panthers’ top wide receiving threat. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the receivers aren’t just the right complementary pieces for the particular offense they’re in.

The Broncos have plenty of all-stars on their back end, including cornerbacks Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby, as well as big hitter T.J. Ward at strong safety. As far as overall secondary talent, this is one of the better collections in the NFL. But in facing another one of those top-talent secondaries a week ago in the Arizona Cardinals, who featured Patrick Peterson, the Panthers went for over 300 yards and two touchdowns through the air on the way to a 49-15 victory.

If that doesn’t make football sense, it’s OK. It shouldn’t.

No, this group of Panthers receivers wouldn’t likely have the success it has had this season in a more traditional NFL offense. But as their run game pounds away, this group provides just the right dose of big-play ability to take advantage of all the concern given to Newton and the run game.

Olsen is the master of the seam area on the football field. He’ll line up all over the formation and is a willing blocker in the run game, but his biggest impact comes when he stretches the middle lanes. The example below is a classic Olsen route, a wide release from the line of scrimmage to toy with the leverage of the safety covering him, only to return back down the hashes for a big play.  

Olsen is a serious concern all over the field, but the times where he’ll warrant the most coverage attention by Denver is when he’s working the intermediate-to-deep middle parts of the field. Fall asleep on him there and you’re virtually guaranteed Newton will be working the ball his way for a big try.

In the true receiver group, Ginn’s 10 touchdowns this season are about the same as the number he’d accumulated over the previous eight years in the league. Ginn was always considered an excellent returner, but his receiving history was a mixed bag. He was a speed and run-after-the-catch guy, but never a catch gobbler.

But that’s why he’s such a perfect fit for in Carolina. A typical day for him amounts to a few catches, one of which is usually a big, game-changing play.  On Sunday, Ginn ran a reverse for a touchdown, which was emblematic of his elite return skills, the kind of play that keeps a defense honest and not just lagging off him to prevent shot plays.

The following example shows how the Panthers are able to take advantage of the grace given Ginn, this time by way of a deep comeback completion against one of the best cornerbacks in football.  The cornerback stays on top of the route throughout, guarding first for the deep route that dominates Ginn’s reputation.

Corey "Philly" Brown had a monster 86-yard touchdown in that NFC Championship Game in typical Panthers fashion, making one guy miss in the extreme open space and then running the rest of the length of the field.  Jericho Cotchery, the savvy veteran, is always good for a handful of important sticks conversions throughout the game, and talented rookie project Devin Funchess will also show up from time to time. 

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Matt Chatham played for the Patriots and Jets for nine NFL seasons, winning three Super Bowls. He is also the founder of footballbyfootball.com. You can follow him on Twitter