Odd years (RE: 2013, 2015, 2017, etc) usually benefit the Panthers with big winning streaks and playoff appearances, but that has not been the case in the year 2019 thus far. Granted, the team is 5-5 and they’re still technically in the NFC playoff race, but with the top six teams constantly winning, hope is on thin ice, and who knows when the surface will collapse.
However, one player that seems to be enjoying 2019 is sophomore wideout D.J. Moore – though he’s only caught one touchdown pass on the year, Moore has caught 62 passes through ten games for 779 yards, good enough to put him inside the top 15 in the NFL thus far.
His last three games have been far kinder to him as well. Against the Titans, Packers and Falcons, Moore’s caught 24 passes for 316 yards, 13.17 yards per reception, and over 105 yards per game. It’s been a great stretch for the young receiver, and the best part is that he’s been able to refine his route running and improve his play against tighter coverage, including becoming a security blanket on third down for Kyle Allen.
No career in the NFL comes without missteps, but Moore did leave his rookie season needing work against man and press coverage – he often struggled without being schemed open by Norv Turner. But with some work during the offseason, when asked to make plays against more sophisticated coverage, Moore’s been able to do so far more than in 2018.
Let’s take a look at some of the key plays Moore has been a part of during this stretch. I already analyzed Moore’s performance against the Titans, so for this piece, we’re just going to look at his games against the Packers and Falcons.
That’s Moore against Packers second-year corner Jaire Alexander on a third-and-short. The Packers pass rush has still maintained a high level of play thanks to the lethal combination of Za’Darius and Preston Smith, but the secondary has given up more chunk plays after a strong start to the season.
On this route, Moore doesn’t make things any easier for Alexander.
Moore takes a long jab with his left foot…
…pushes off and creates enough separation for Kyle Allen to help move the chains. Alexander can only tackle him beyond the first down marker.
Notice the quick first step from Moore off the snap; This is the same leg he uses to push back inside on the slant route. With good protection from the Panthers line, this play ends up in Carolina’s favor, as Allen is afforded enough time to make an accurate throw to an open Moore.
This time, Moore is lined up on the right side of the formation against the veteran Desmond Trufant.
Trufant engages in tight press coverage against Moore…
…who manages to find a way inside, beating Trufant in the process.
Moore’s quick hands on this play allow him to sabotage Trufant’s attempts at containing him and since the help over the top is too far away to make an impact, this means Moore is in the open field, creating a chunk play for the Panthers with plenty of yards after the catch.
One drawback Moore has faced in this recent stretch of games has nothing to do with his actual play, but instead the quarterback situation. Kyle Allen was a fine backup on the Panthers’ four-game winning streak, but recently, his play has cost Carolina wins they needed to stay closer in the NFC Wild Card hunt. And as you may have guessed, Moore has gotten the short end of the stick from Allen on several occasions despite winning his routes.
For instance, here we have an egregious miss on Allen’s part.
Moore’s route begins as if he’s running a slant route…
…and cuts back outside for a corner route, getting himself open. Greg Olsen, the H-back in motion on this play, is open as well, so Allen has a choice of two players to throw this to.
Unfortunately, Allen’s pass sails above Moore’s head.
This is a nice play call and design from Norv Turner, but Allen’s accuracy can’t complement the separation that both Moore and Olsen get. It doesn’t help that Allen doesn’t step up in the pocket or fire with any forward momentum in his lower body; at the end of it, we have an off-target pass and a punt on what should have been an easy first down.
Moore doesn’t do anything special on this play in the third quarter, as the coverage is soft and he’s essentially open. But again, Allen’s throw is well off target, and he has a noticeable delay in the time he gets this pass out of his hands. The throwing motion here is too long, and the pass is thrown way too inside for Moore to have a chance at this. In fact the player with the best chance at catching this pass is Isaiah Oliver of the Falcons, and fortunately for Allen he escapes with a dropped interception (on a day where he threw four of them).
Finally, let’s go to the worst and most costly miss of Moore in this three game stretch, which occurred on the final drive of Week 10’s Panthers-Packers game.
Moore faces off against Kevin King, who had a rough outing against Carolina on a day that gradually got snowier and snowier.
Moore comes at the King and doesn’t miss with this route, cutting inside…
…then faking King out with a nice break back inside, giving Moore considerable separation. The Panthers trail by eight on this play, so in addition to a touchdown, they would need a two-point conversion as well. Allen just needs to see Moore’s opening and deliver this ball on time.
He does not.
Right as Moore gets the upper hand on King, this ball should be out of Allen’s hands. But Allen holds onto the ball a second too late, giving King time to recover as well as draw in the safety help over the top. The pass is woefully underthrown and an excellent route from Moore is wasted by late processing by the quarterback.
Misses like this are unfortunate because D.J. Moore has turned into quite the receiver this season. With better quarterback play the past few games, these plays left on the field would obviously be cleaned up, and that’s something the Panthers have missed from a healthy Cam Newton. With that said, Moore’s improvement against press coverage has allowed him to stand out as one of the best receivers from the 2018 draft class – his recent stretch of games suggests he’s racing towards an exciting finish to 2019 and beyond.