After Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL during the off-season, Greg Olsen became Cam Newton’s undisputed number one receiver in Mike Shula’s offense. Against the Seahawks, Greg Olsen was targeted 11 times and he caught seven of those for 131 yards through the air. Additionally, Olsen’s touchdown was the game-winner that continued the Panthers’ undefeated season. In this breakdown, we will take a look at some of his plays from Sunday afternoon.
The Panthers line up in off-set I right with “12”-personnel on the field using two tight ends. Olsen runs a drag route across the field from the right side of the formation behind the Seahawks linebackers. Olsen makes a great diving catch to bring in Newton’s pass that was placed slightly too far ahead of Olsen for the 12 yard gain.
Since the play-action pulled in the linebackers who thought the Panthers were running the ball, this allowed Olsen to get behind them for the strike over the middle of the field.
The Panthers line up in shotgun with Olsen split two yards behind the line of scrimmage. Thinking the Panthers will run the ball, the Seahawks bring eight defenders into the box to stuff the run. The Panthers run play-action to the running back which draws in the linebackers. Olsen runs an out-n-up down the right sideline clearing the second level defenders with ease and getting outside the secondary.
The play-action, like in Play 1, is what fools the linebackers again. Linebacker #58 Kevin Pierre-Louis gets caught peeking into the backfield and loses his man coverage responsibilities. Typically on an out-n-up route, the receiver will break further outside before cutting up the field to widen the throwing lane and make the out-portion more believable. However, Olsen recognizes the separation he already gained from the play-action fake, so he cut up the field early to distance himself from his defender. Newton places the ball in-stride setting up the Panthers for a short running touchdown by Jonathan Stewart.
The Seahawks run Cover 3 zones with Richard Sherman in the deep right third and Earl Thomas over the middle of the field. Wide receiver #17 Devin Funchess from shotgun trips left runs an out-n-up up the left seam pulling Thomas out of the play. Meahwhile, Olsen cuts across the vacated middle between zones for the reception on his post route.
Newton places the ball slightly high and slightly behind Olsen but Sherman still can’t make a play on the ball. The vacated zone by Thomas allows Olsen to gain extra yards on the catch and almost score a touchdown. Olsen’s recognition of zones combined with Newton’s eye discipline is the reason why this play worked so well for the Panthers.
With 2:20 remaining in the game, Cam Newton and the Panthers are down by 3 points.
Newton starts the drive by making short passes to the boundaries and then takes what the Seahawks’ defense gives him over the middle of the field. A few separate 15-18 yard catches leads the Panthers down to the Seahawks’ 26 yard line where Newton spikes the ball to organize his teammates. There is only 32 seconds remaining in the game at this point and the Panthers are completely out of time outs.
The Panthers line up in shotgun trips left with Greg Olsen standing by himself on the right side of the formation. The Seahawks are showing an interesting Cover 3 look pre-snap where free safety #29 Earl Thomas is playing in the center of the field and not as deep as you would usually see a Cover 3 deep middle safety.
With that in mind, Olsen sprints off of the line of scrimmage after the snap running a seam route down the numbers on the right side of the field. He’s left wide open. Cam Newton sees the opening and gifts him the go-ahead touchdown score.
Clearly there was a miscommunication between Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. Sherman obviously thought he was responsible for the short right zone, while Earl Thomas thought Sherman would take the deep right zone in a Cover 3 shell. Who is wrong exactly?
Based on KJ Wright dropping into his deep zone and Sherman staying shallow leaving the deep right third open, I would have to guess Earl Thomas is the defender at fault here as this would have been a Cover 4 shell if Thomas dropped correctly into his zone.
The only blemish on Olsen’s game happened during the second quarter. In one drive Olsen caused two false start penalties while the Panthers were down by 3 putting the Panthers into a punting situation. Just awful.
Outside of his penalties, Olsen was phenomenal. He was targeted eleven times and hauled in seven of those passes. Looking at those four incompletions none of those were actually his fault. Three of those passes were poor throws by Newton: One was overthrown, and two were behind him. The fourth incompletion was simply a great defensive play by Seahawks’ linebacker #50 KJ Wright over the middle of the field stopping what would have been a touchdown pass to Olsen.
The Panthers drafted Devin Funchess out of Michigan last year. If he can step up and Benjamin can remain healthy, then defenses will have a very hard time containing them combined with Newton’s arm/scrambling ability and Olsen’s knack for finding holes in zone coverage.
Follow Samuel Gold on Twitter: @SamuelRGold.