Panthers Post-Mortem: The Wide Receivers

With 65 yards and 1 TD, Brandon LaFell is off to a solid start, Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Finding scapegoats is something every fan base does, particularly in a disappointing loss. For the Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, or New York Jets, their woes have often been blamed on their QB position. Thankfully for the Carolina Panthers the quarterback is no longer an issue, and most ascribe to the notion that Cam Newton is doing the absolute best he can, even in terrible situations.

On Sunday he was let down by a porous offensive line who couldn't offer a semblance of protection. There were numerous occasions where 2-3 players were completely taken out of the play, which allowed the Buccaneers' linebackers to have free paths to Newton, and in turn disrupt the passing game.

Over the years we've been conditioned to believe that Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil can do no wrong (for the most part), and that Geoff Hangartner is a reliable veteran– these statements are true, but this week they resulted in reductive reasoning which blamed much of the Panthers' offensive failings on rookie LG Amini Silatolu, who it should be noted had the hardest assignment on the OL dealing with Gerald McCoy. The truth about Sunday's game was ugly– RT Byron Bell was far and away the best offensive lineman for the Panthers, with Gross, Kalil, and Hangartner all having uncharacteristically poor days, paired with Silatolu over matched by a veteran DT. This caused the pass protection to collapse, and the pass-heavy offense to fail.

In the wake of the game, murmurs started about Silatolu, and whether it was a wise decision to invest a second round pick in the small-school offensive guard, over lauded wide receivers like Stephen Hill and Alshon Jeffrey, both of whom had successful first weeks. Amini's poor play, juxtaposed with Hill and Jeffrey's success incubated these feelings of discontent which were seen not just here on CSR, but heard on sport's radio, and in other locations.

The Carolina Panthers elected to pass on the WR position in the 2012 draft. The front office publicly stated they had faith in Brandon LaFell, even if fans didn't, and the trade to bring Louis Murphy into the fold helped bolster their WR corps. Based on what we saw Sunday, even with Hill and Jeffery's good day, the Panthers were right.

More after the jump

"Is he a true 1,000 yard receiver?"

This question is often asked of WRs entering the draft as a watermark for evaluating their ability. What's rarely talked about is that 1,000 equates to just 62.5 yards per game over a season. Currently all four receives we're looking at are on pace for 1,000 yards. Yes, I know extrapolating after one game is foolish, but it's equal to evaluating a rookie's worth after one game. Here is a snapshot of each receiver's game on Sunday:

- Stephen Hill had a 89 yard, 2 TD game working against a Bills' defense in shambles, and a rookie who looked utterly lost in Stephon Gilmore.

- Alshon Jeffery had a 80 yard, 1 TD game where he was covered by Justin King, the CB who will be eventually replaced by Vontae Davis who the Colts traded for late in preseason.

- Brandon LaFell had a 65 yard, 1 TD game where he was covered by Aqib Talib. A troubled, but indisputably talented CB.

- Louis Murphy had a 63 yard game, spurred by a huge 51 yard reception that came when he blew by the aforementioned Talib, and caught a deep pass.

In summary: LaFell and Murphy faced better competition, and put up comparable numbers with a QB who had no time to throw. One could make an argument that Murphy's day is skewed by that single huge reception, and that's fair– but let's be quick to note that over half of Alson Jeffrey's yards came on a single reception also.

At this point continuing to single out the wide receivers as a reason for Carolina's offensive woes is little more than an attempt to further force a square peg into a round hole. LaFell and Murphy got separation, caught in traffic, and were in no way a weakness on Sunday. The front office believed that LaFell could be a true #2 receiver, and a 65 yard game falls well within the range you want to see from one; heck, Muhsin Muhammad routinely hit these marks with Steve Smith.

What we saw from Brandon LaFell and Louis Murphy was a continuation of what we've seen from them. LaFell came on towards the end of the 2011 season when thrust into a starting role, and he's continued to play well. Murphy was stuck at the bottom of the Raiders' depth chart, yet showed the flashes he did in 2010, and the ability we heard about from Oakland fans. They are proven talents, and continue to prove themselves. Given they are both just 25 years old, there's simply no need to already be concerned that the Panthers missed out on the next 'great one' at WR.

It's too early to extrapolate performance from one game, but in his last career seven games as a starter Brandon LaFell has averaged 48 yards per game, and that's the equivalent of a 761 yard season– right where a #2 receiver should be. Does he still need to 'prove himself'? My response: To who? The coaching staff has shown faith, and he's backed up their belief. Nobody should be forced to be on board, but to deny that he's been effective and lust for a rookie is to miss the big picture.

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