It’s always good to start the season with a W, and that’s exactly what the Panthers did on Sunday with a 14-19 home victory against the Jets. While much of the news has been about Sam Darnold’s debut performance in Charlotte and, while that certainly deserves some plaudits, DJ Moore’s game is also deserving of some attention. Not only was he second behind McCaffrey with 80 receiving yards, but he did so with a number of big receptions, especially on the Panthers long touchdown drive, as well as adding 14 yards rushing on his sole carry.
Most importantly, he was instrumental in the offense’s early success against New York’s defense, providing the only consistent receiving option on the outside for the game. So, without further delay, let’s get to the tape and see how he was able to impact the game.
Early on, we can see this little curl route as an indication of the quiet, yet deadly, day Moore had that Sunday afternoon.
Getting his right hand over the outside corner, he’s able to create an inch of vertical separation against the defensive back. This slight separation forces the defender to commit vertically and so, when he breaks back to the ball at the top of his route, he is able to make a play on the ball, using his back like a center in basketball to charge himself past the first down marker.
Later on, Moore runs a simple go route outside the numbers and toward the sideline, running inside before wiping his hands above the head of the corner and cutting outside.
This move is important because it gives Moore the space needed for Darnold to execute the back shoulder toss in his direction. Even then, the space is also minimal meaning that Moore has to do, well, more in order to complete the process of a catch. As you can see by the slow motion zoom in, he’s able to do that, just barely getting a smooth toe tap in, resulting in a great looking first down reception.
This time, Moore only gets seven yards, but it’s done on a third and six. Joe Brady calls for a trips formation, with Moore being the furthest receiver from the line of scrimmage. As Moore sets up this route, notice how he’s running it with more hesitance than the other two receivers in the bunch. This is because those receivers are using their routes to buy him time to create space. As a result, his patient route running pays dividends when he is in plenty of space to make the reception.
As a further indicator of how far Moore has developed with the Panthers, he uses his body to push upward at the catch point, dragging his momentum to the first down marker to keep the drive alive. It’s a tiny, but necessary detail.
This next play is more of a scheme enhanced play than anything else, but it also shows Moore’s nuanced ability as a short area receiver. The Jets expect Darnold to drop deeper in the pocket and run a play action, but before he can he suddenly turns around just before meeting the back and fires the bubble screen to Moore.
Moore’s quick footwork allows him to execute the short curl, and he has blockers ahead of him that allow him to find space and burst toward the middle of the field for an easy first.
Finally, here’s the 14-yard sweep mentioned at the beginning. Using legal boundaries, Moore lines up outside, then behind the tight end in an H-back formation before suddenly sprinting toward Darnold.
With two tight ends lined up on the strong side and Moore angling for the edge, the Jets can’t get past the blockers in time, and Moore’s speed allows him to zoom past any attempts at stopping him short of the sticks. This is a well-executed play call and great timing from the receiver that catches New York’s defense off guard.
DJ Moore being good isn’t exactly breaking news, he has nearly 3,400 yards of total offense through his first three NFL seasons for a reason, but the way he was able to impact the game on Sunday was an example of what he does so well, and what he can be for this offense, and for Sam Darnold. He doesn’t need to be the player they go do every day, and neither is he going to be a constant deep threat, but he is able to take 5-10 targets a game and create a handful of plays that not only help the Panthers move the chains, but also break the backs of the defense.
In an offense with Christian McCaffrey, the other offensive weapons are always going to see a reduction in touches compared to what they might get elsewhere, but as long as DJ Moore is able to be both efficient and impactful when he is thrown the ball then he is going to be a key piece for this Panthers offense.
(Top photo via Angela Denogean/Carolina Panthers)