This past Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons continued a worrying trend that was present in the first game of the season, but really goes back into last season as well. That trend is the Carolina Panthers receiver corps under-performing. They are dropping passes, running sloppy or wrong routes, and generally just looking confused out there as to what they should be doing at any particular moment.
The only exception to the above seems to be Jarius Wright, a guy who learned how to operate within Norv Turner’s system somewhere else, and so far is the only one who is playing with any degree of professional acumen and trust from Cam Newton. Other than him, we see a worrying list of let downs:
- Devin Funchess, in a contract year no less, has not had much of an impact after an encouraging season last year. He has not made many “degree of difficulty” catches that would inspire anyone to believe he is a potential WR1, and his hands were particularly unsure against the Falcons. He has also been guilty of clumping up with other receivers, lending one to believe he is either running the wrong route or a poor route.
- Torrey Smith is struggling with penalties (not talking about sticking up for Cam) and drops, as well as the same route issues listed above for Funchess.
- D.J. Moore appears to be behind schedule, and is not being used in a way that the team and he can build on, such as shallow routes designed to produce more yards after the catch (clearly his specialty). Reports of him hitting a mental rookie wall while still in the preseason are worrying, and that could just as easily be coaching as it could be his own struggles to grasp things.
For me though, the biggest problem right now is that none of these guys seem to be “playing fast,” meaning, nothing about what they are doing is simply a reflex. They are not confident in their responsibilities and technique, and instead are out there looking like a middle-aged guy in ballroom dancing class. Now one, two, three and one, two, three, now step, pivot, turn...
This lack of perceived preparation has to come back on coaching, and that buck stops right on the head of second year receivers coach Lance Taylor. Taylor was always a curious hire to me, coming directly from a running backs coach job at Standford into a professional WR coach gig with the Panthers. He had not coached wide receivers specifically since 2009 when he was with Appalachian State University and their mighty fine football program. Even then, and far be it from me to hate on a fellow Mountaineer, but he was only a receivers coach for a single season.
This begs the question, does Lance Taylor even know enough about what is going on to effectively pass that to his students? Is he potentially a victim of wanting to move forward with an offense that didn’t peak back in the 1980s, when he was no doubt more concerned about playing with his Ghostbusters proton pack than the intricacies of the Norv Turner Coryell offense? Does that really matter in this particular moment?
I’m just saying that we are spending a lot of time questioning whether certain players are capable, when really we might want to look a bit behind the curtain at other potential issues. When one part of a car is acting up, you replace the part. When the whole car consistently runs like crap... well, maybe it’s time to question the guy who built it in the first place.