Skip to main content

Getting the passing game in step

DJ Moore

CHARLOTTE – The Panthers know they need to improve in the passing game, and that means getting a lot of moving parts moving at the same speed. And so far, they haven't.

Carolina stands at 31st in the league in passing offense, averaging 161.3 yards per game through its first three games. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is 31st in completion percentage at 51.9 percent. They're 31st in the league in third-down conversions, a 27.0 percent clip.

While Mayfield is part of the puzzle, there are plenty of opportunities for growth across the field. Making that jump isn't a one-person job, and it is a job that takes a level of synchronicity where the quarterback and wide receivers are constantly aligned mentally, and in step on the field.

Joe Dailey

Wide receivers coach Joe Dailey dug into the root of building chemistry between a quarterback and wideouts, explaining how each receiver on the field has to have his steps timed and centered with Mayfield. In practice, they're getting into details, where it's a game of inches, and spatial awareness is vital.

"The uniqueness about our system is that the quarterback's footwork and the wide receivers' footwork are in sync," Dailey said. "Our shoelaces are tied together. … Understanding when you get to a certain landmark, where the football is going to be, where my eyes and hands need to be.

"The exactness and detail just come into executing the proper footwork and understanding where the ball location is going to be and where my eyes and hands need to be."

Dailey said there's a focus on recreating in-game speed in practice and that it's vital to creating rhythm.

"It's the accumulation of reps over time," Dailey said. "Visually in the classroom, on the field walking through it, jogging through it, full speed, and then game day. The fastest you'll play is going to be on game day, and how you can accumulate as many game day-like repetitions prior to ever getting there is what really leads to that execution."

Head coach Matt Rhule said everyone involved in the offense has a role to play in improvement, from himself and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo to the offensive line and wideout group. Rhule compared it to the way Carolina's defense challenged itself in Week 3 to finally create a turnover; this week is the offense's time to tune in on the passing game.

"As you've heard me talk about the passing game, it's everybody," Rhule said. "It's never on one guy. It's on the coach. It's on the line to protect. It's on guys to get open and make tough catches. I think everybody is really honing in on, 'Hey, what can I do?'

"It's like I talked about with turnovers last week, if you talk about something a lot, sometimes guys start to get tense about it. We've got to cut loose a little bit."

The Panthers' group of receivers have yet to break out, and their two primary targets – DJ Moore and Robbie Anderson – have flashed at times, but without any level of consistency.

Anderson connected with Mayfield for a 75-yard touchdown in Week 1 against the Browns. Remove that play, and Anderson has accumulated 73 yards on eight catches. Moore brought in a 16-yard touchdown against the Giants in Week 2, but his 88 yards on seven catches through the first three games are his fewest in a three-game stretch since the first three games of his rookie year in 2018.

Last week against the Saints, Anderson and Moore combined for two catches for 16 combined yards, while former Jaguar Laviska Shenault Jr.. impressed in his Carolina debut. Shenault's 90-yard game, on two receptions, made him the Panthers' second-most productive wideout on the season.

Shi Smith has tallied 36 yards on four catches in his second year, while fellow second-year wideout Terrace Marshall Jr. and former Browns receiver Rashard Higgins have yet to see a target this year.

Moore and Anderson are historically strong pass catchers in Carolina (Moore's one of just two players in the league with three straight seasons of 1,100 yards or more), and McAdoo said creating opportunities for them is a priority.

"They just need to keep working hard," McAdoo said. "I need to do a better job getting the ball to them. They're doing everything that we're asking them to do, so I need to do a better job getting the ball to them, and we need to find more completions."

There's a need for the receivers to create separation, which McAdoo said he focused on during Monday and Tuesday meetings with the offense and staff.

Schematically, Dailey said there's an emphasis on flexibility in finding the open receiver.

"There are so many plays that we go into the game thinking, 'Hey, we're going to target X, Y, and Z, and you feel really comfortable about it," Dailey said. "Football is chaotic. Things don't happen the way we planned them. So that's why you have contingency plans."

Joe Dailey

Moore echoed the sentiment.

"Getting open is getting open," Moore said. "Open is one yard, 0.5 yards. Open is open in this league. Quarterback, if he doesn't see it that way, it's cool. They go on to the next read; the next person is open. That goes for everybody in our room. Everybody can get open."

Moore said he also sees improvement as moving faster and keeping a line of communication when issues arise.

"(It's) just doing everything faster," Moore said. "Better speed, just getting out there. If it's pressure, just get open faster. If it's something that you need to work on (with Mayfield), just talk about it."

McAdoo said the passing offense "took a pretty good step" in practice this week, but he also sees the offense as a constant work in progress. Dailey said it's "inevitable" that the passing offense will eventually get rolling.

Rhule saw a more locked-in energy as receivers got open during practice this week, and now he's looking for those reps to translate to the game.

"It's not about getting the ball; it's about getting open," Rhule said. "Go get open, and the ball will come your way. I saw the look in Robbie's eye today; he's focused. I saw the look in DJ's eye today; he's focused. Terrace, he's focused.

"There are a lot of guys that are ready to go. If we all do that, I can promise you; Baker Mayfield is going to make plays."

View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Panthers prepare to take on the Cardinals this weekend.

Related Content