OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Louis Murphy #18 of the Oakland Raiders races up the sideline on a forty eight yard pass play in front of Tim Jennings #26 of the Chicago Bears at O.co Coliseum on November 27, 2011 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
With the acquisition of Louis Murphy, the Panthers have seemingly added more depth to their burgeoning Wide Receiver Corps. At 6'2 213 lbs. Murphy has a size advantage over most cornerbacks in the NFL, as well as the speed to match a track-star (4.32 40 yard dash). And while Murphy has produced paltry numbers thus far in his NFL career, part of his true value lies in the match ups he creates.
As has been discussed, part of the reason for Murphy's pedestrian production can be attributed to the largely ineffectual QB play that has maligned the Raiders over the past 5 years. If a change of scenery is able to rejuvenate Murphy, and Coaches Chudzinski and Graves feel comfortable in allowing him to see the field, Louis Murphy could give the Panthers Offense a weapon that it did not possess last year.
Murphy's intangibles and skill set place him as an archetype of Y Wide Receiver. Typically the Y WR is a larger receiver who lines up in the slot, while the X and Z WR's line up out wide.
Towards the conclusion of the 2011 season, opposing defenses would double cover uber-weapon Steve Smith, assigning two defenders to Smith in an attempt to neutralize Cam Newton's favorite target. As a result Smith amassed only 476 yards during the second half of the season.
One of the more common strategies that defenses employ would be shifting a Safety over top Smith, preventing any deep attack. Ultimately, this idea leaves a large gap in the coverage of the deep part of the field. Defenses were able to get away with this gambit because the Panthers didn't have any other threats capable of stretching the field and hurting defenses.
By lining up in an 11 personnel grouping, with Lafell as the Z WR set out wide right, along with Olsen offset the RT, and Smitty out wide on the weakside as the X WR, and Murphy in the slot as the Y WR, the Panthers will be able to counteract defensive measures to blanket Smith.
Say Smitty is running an 8 route (Post), and Murphy runs a 9 route (Go), Defenses will be forced to make a very tough decision. Smitty's man will follow him on his route across the field, while the Free Safety will shift over to blanket his route, meanwhile Murphy sprints deep, with his man trailing him, the Safety will be in no place to give help over top, leaving Murphy in favorable position to catch a bomb from Cam. Ultimately, Defensive Coaches will have to decide whether or not they want to leave Smitty in single coverage, or if they'll allow their nickel corner to cover a burner like Murphy one on one deep. It's a lose-lose situation for the safety, if he abandons Smitty, Cam will be able to hit him over the middle of the field like he did so often last year, or if he leaves Murphy in single coverage the defense will be vulnerable to a big play. And it's relatively simple for Cam, one read --where does the Safety go? Overtop Smitty? Hit Murphy. Overtop Murphy? Look for Smitty.
In the end, it should look something like this (Note, in this picture the Y WR is running the 8 route, while the X runs the fade).
The Panthers should be able to run this play, or any number of variations, almost at will, provided that the Defense doesn't line up in an odd Cover 3/Prevent Defense, in which case, Cam could look for Lafell or Olsen, or even audible to a running play, in order to take advantage of the defense's alignment.
In the long run, the Panthers could opt to replace Murphy with Gettis, or Adams, but I expect them to utilize options like this one to alleviate pressure on Smitty, and make defensive coordinators think hard about their coverage of the Panthers' Pass Catchers. And if Cam and Murphy are able to connect on 1-2 deep bombs, or if Steve Smith can raze secondaries the same way he did last year, that conditional pick will have been well spent.