Don't look now but the Carolina Panthers boast a 5-2 record and just hung 36 points and 386 yards on the NFL's No. 1 defense. While offensive coordinator Norv Turner called a brilliant game and the execution from the players was outstanding, a big reason why Carolina was so effective on Sunday was the play of rookie first-round pick D.J. Moore.
With 5 receptions for 90 yards and 2 carries for 39 yards, Moore set season-highs in receptions, targets, total touches, receiving yards, rushing attempts, rushing yards and yards from scrimmage against the Baltimore Ravens. It was a glimpse of the dynamic player Moore can develop into and what Carolina envisioned when drafting him No. 24 overall.
Part of what makes Moore such an exciting weapon is the variety of ways he can be used to make big plays. His multifaceted skill set mixed in the arsenal with Carolina's other options creates a diverse and complementary group of playmakers that can attack defenses in so many different ways.
After the Panthers 36-21 victory on Sunday, QB Cam Newton commented on the challenges Carolina's offense poses to opponents.
"We present a lot of issues for defenses and that is what this offense was kind of built for," Newton said. "We have dynamic players all around the field."
Take a look at this rep and all the dimensions Carolina has built into it. There are several layers to the play, but none of it is overly complicated for the offense but presents a host of challenges for the defense.
Diverse running back Christian McCaffrey is split out wide before motioning behind the running back and continuing across the formation. At the snap, Newton has so many options at his disposal - a flare pass to McCaffrey to the left, a run-pass option with C.J. Anderson and layered crossers that flood the middle to right side of the field. Big-bodied WR Devin Funchess runs a deeper leveled cross with Moore's crosser underneath it. TE Greg Olsen runs an out route which stretches the zone and creates the space needed for an easy pitch and catch from Newton to Moore. Meanwhile, the offensive line is zone blocking to its left.
All Newton needs to do is read the leverage of the defense and execute. This type of action creates nightmares for the defense to read its keys and maintain its responsibilities. It's not just an intelligently designed play, the skill sets that exist within Carolina's weaponry also make it effective because of all that the defense must account for.
This type of play is what Ravens' veteran safety Eric Weddle was referring to after the game when commenting on Carolina's offensive scheme.
"They present a lot of misdirection and formations, different plays and was tough to get in a rhythm with them and Cam played an outstanding game," Weddle said.
While Moore made this play partly because of scheme, it speaks to how he fits into the offense and how the variations of skill sets within the unit lead to opportunities to make plays.
One of my favorite things about studying Moore in college was his ability to create after the catch. He is dynamic and explosive with the ball in his hands with excellent field vision. He is capable of creating space for himself and is ultra competitive as a ball carrier.
Facing a 2nd-and-10, Carolina has a bunch set to the right of the formation, designed to set up an opportunity for Moore to make something happen after the catch and he does just that. Dealing with contact behind the line of scrimmage, Moore appears dead to rights 5 yards short of the line to gain for a first down. Moore reduces his pad level, cuts back into the field, explodes into C.J. Mosley and battles through contact for an additional 8 yards. This is an impressive illustration of not only Moore's post-catch ability, but his competitive toughness.
Approaching the midway point of Carolina's season, it's become clear that Newton is gaining confidence in Moore as a downfield target.
Snapping the ball from the Panthers 2-yard line, Carolina is pinned deep in its own territory and desperately needed to flip the field position. Looking to take a shot down the field, Newton launches the ball nearly 40 yards in the air to Moore who perfectly altered the tempo of his route to make himself available in the soft part of the the zone. Newton floats the ball to Moore between four defenders to make the big play. Moore illustrates his ball tracking skills and even creates additional yardage after the catch.
This play sparked a 99-yard touchdown drive against the best defense in football.
Another trait that popped from Moore based on his college tape was his ball skills and ability to adjust to the football. He routinely made late adjustments to the football and was able to extend in any direction to snatch the football. Moore was the only wide receiver in the Big 10 conference last season to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark and he did that with Maryland down to its fourth-string quarterback for most of the season. His ability to make plays on the ball and adjust are a big reason why.
Driving for more points before the half, Newton targets Moore over the middle of the field. While I wish the broadcast angle revealed more of the route, let's focus in on the catch point. Moore shields the defender with perfect body positioning while working back across his momentum to adjust and position himself to haul in the completion with the cornerback draped over his back. This is an extremely difficult catch to make but the game slows down for Moore at the catch point and he was able to win the rep.
This play helped position Carolina for a field goal as time expired before the half and open up a three-score lead.
We've established that Moore can win down the field, create after the catch, win in contested situations and execute with timing but that's not all - Moore's skill set is worthy of designed runs.
It's 3rd-and-1 and the Panthers are just beyond midfield. Carolina is lined up in a pistol formation with Moore as the deep back and McCaffrey also in the backfield. Newton has the option to hand it off to McCaffrey or pitch it to Moore. The pitch was a near disaster as Newton was far too wide with it but Moore remains calm, fields the ball cleanly on the bounce, destroys C.J. Mosley's pursuit angle and accelerates for a 37-yard gain.
Moore carried the ball for a gain of 6 yards on the next play before Cam Newton threw a touchdown pass to McCaffrey on the ensuing play and Carolina extended it's lead to 14.
Moore was dynamic on Sunday and a key offensive catalyst in Carolina dominating the NFL's top defense. It was just a taste of things to come as Moore matures into the offense and presents a tantalizing weapon for Newton and Turner.
Given the way offense is being played in today's NFL, Moore is primed for more production in a variety of ways.