CHARLOTTE -- Atlanta has been a team that tight end Greg Olsen has historically performed well against, notching 770 receiving yards and seven touchdowns - career highs against any one team - in 15 meetings. Unfortunately for Olsen and the Panthers, quarterback Cam Newton's safety blanket, as wide receiver Torrey Smith recently put it, will not get a chance to add to those numbers Sunday after re-fracturing his right foot in Week 1.
With Olsen out indefinitely, the offense is once again forced to adjust after having to do so all offseason. Tight end Ian Thomas is expected get the start, but asking the rookie to recreate the production of a three-time Pro Bowler is a tall task. After losing Olsen for nine games last season to injury, head coach Ron Rivera understands - perhaps now more than ever - that the offense will need to make the most of their opportunities as a whole without their starting tight end.
"We're going to try to take what we're given and make plays off of that. If we get the ball in the guy's hands that can make plays for us, i think it'll open up other things," said Rivera on the offense's approach against Atlanta.
Against the Cowboys, Newton found his legs quickly, rushing for a team-high 58 yards while running back Christian McCaffrey had the hot hands with 45 receiving yards to lead the team. Both players are capable of being dual threats at any moment but, against a strong Falcons defense, they will need a lot more help.
Regarding the offense's shortcomings following Week 1, first-year offensive coordinator Norv Turner couldn't help but mention the benefits provided by QB1. "He hides a lot of things, a lot of deficiencies, but you can’t ask him to carry everything," he said.
So who, in addition to Thomas, will Turner turn to? Enter the wide receivers. Against Dallas, the receivers made up 79 of the team's 146 receiving yards but added zero touchdowns. Devin Funchess and Jarius Wright expect better against Atlanta.
"They're always tough. They're fast, hungry and ready to disrupt things," Funchess said of Atlanta's defense after acknowledging that he wants to improve in Week 2. "We just got to be on our Ps and Qs and get ready to compete with those guys."
As one of the established veterans in a young core, Wright embraced the idea of stepping up in Olsen's absence. "I know how much Cam liked looking for Greg on third downs...Greg was a huge target for Cam so hopefully I can bring my skills to kind of be able to, not take his place because nobody can ever take G.O.'s place but just kind of pick up on some of the things he does really well," Wright said.
"We have experience in our room...we know that we have to pick up the slack, pick up the load. We also have great tight ends in Chris Manhertz and Ian, so we got guys who can make plays."
In the season opener, McCaffrey was one of those guys making plays, and he expressed that he's ready to continue to do so in Atlanta.
"It's obviously a very talented defense, and we have a lot of weapons on offense so everybody has a plan until you start to get in the feel of things," he said. "You got to adapt to what they're giving you, so we plan to use everybody and really spread the ball around and, obviously, I'd like to have a positive effect in that as well."
After Week 1, Turner noted his disappointment in the team's performance in the red zone, as well as how much the team will miss Olsen. But, heading into Week 2, he stressed that the offense's success will be predicated on how well they do what they have constantly been asked to do: change.
"Every game is different. You just have to be flexible enough and adjust to it," Turner said. "We want to score and we want to score as many as we can."
Week 2 practice: Thursday
View photos from the week of practice leading up to the Panthers' game against the Falcons.