The Arizona Cardinals travel to Carolina, hoping to derail the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game. Mark Schofield looks at the Panthers Corey Brown, who could be the X-factor.
Behind the MVP-worthy season of Cam Newton, the Carolina offense has turned in a solid season, despite losing top receiving threat Kelvin Benjamin for the season during training camp. A number of pass-catchers stepped forward to pick up the slack, most notably tight end Greg Olsen and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.. On the verge of the NFC Championship Game another receiver looms as a potential X-Factor for the Panthers against the Arizona Cardinals: second-year wideout Corey Brown.
Here is a great example of Newton and Brown connecting on a vertical route, with exceptional execution from both players. With 49 seconds remaining in the first half against the Green Bay Packers, the Panthers face 3rd and 7 on the Packers 39-yard line. Newton is in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel, flanked in the backfield by Olsen (#88) on his left and fullback Mike Tolbert (#35) on his right. Carolina deploys Ginn Jr. (#19) to the right, and a slot formation left, with Brown (#10) outside and Jerricho Cotchery (#82) inside.
The Packers put five defensive backs on the field, showing Cover 2:
Green Bay rolls coverage to Cover 1 at the snap, and uses a rather interesting blitz design:
Linebackers Jake Ryan (#47) and Clay Matthews Jr. (#52) run a cross stunt on the inside, while safety Morgan Burnett (#42) blitzes off the right edge. Defensive ends Julius Peppers (#56) and Mike Neal (#96) drop into coverage. Note the position of free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (#21), who begins this play shaded to the slot formation side of the field on the hashmark.
Meanwhile, this is how the Panthers look to attack this defense:
Ginn runs a deep out route, Cotchery runs a deep crossing route and Brown runs a vertical route.
The blitz comes and the protection holds. Tolbert and Olsen play a big role here, with the fullback cutting inside to help on the interior stunt, while the tight end cuts across the formation to pick up the blitzing safety. Newton shows great patience here, trusting the blocking before releasing a beautifully thrown deep ball to Brown. The receiver beats the coverage, hauls in the throw, and crashes into the end zone for the score:
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Looking from another angle, we see how Newton was able to buy time for his receiver. After taking the snap, the QB opens up to the right. This influences the free safety, who moves off the hashmark back toward the other side of the field. Newton then peels back to the left, where Brown is running free:
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The FS tries to recover, but he cannot get there in time to prevent the score.
Now let’s focus on the wide receiver. Brown begins this play out wide, standing at the top of the numbers at the snap. Demetri Goodson (#39) is lined up across from the WR in press alignment. Brown wins his matchup in the first few steps.
Off the snap he uses a quick stutter-step then drives off his left foot toward the inside of the field. The CB tries to get a jam with his left arm, but Brown is too quick and Goodson whiffs:
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The race is, for all intents and purposes, over. Goodson tries to turn and run with Brown, but because of the whiff, the receiver has inside leverage and a few steps head start. The CB almost closes when Brown shows a cut to the outside, but even after the two players come together for a moment, the WR is able to quickly re-establish his advantage.
Running the Deep Comeback
From a pure route-running standpoint, Brown is deadly effective when running the deep comeback route. On this play from the divisional round against the Seattle Seahawks, he does just that. The Panthers face 2nd and 10 on their own 35-yard line. They line up with Newton in the shotgun and 11 personnel, with Brown split wide to the right across from Richard Sherman (#25). Seattle uses their 4-2-5 nickel, showing single high coverage before the play and free safety Earl Thomas (#29) shaded away from Brown:
Brown runs the deep comeback, while the Seahawks use a Cover 3 matching concept in the secondary. Strong safety Kam Chancellor (#29) is staying in man coverage on Olsen while the rest of the secondary rolls to Cover 3:
Watch as Brown drives vertically, closing the cushion on Sherman and convincing the CB of the vertical route before stopping on a dime and breaking back down the stem:
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Here’s one more look at the play, as Brown pushes up the field and demonstrates impressive change of direction, quickly getting to the outside:
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In addition to working downfield in the vertical game, Brown is a very effective option for Newton in a number of the short and intermediate passing concepts the Panthers run. On this play against the New York Giants, he runs the dig route in the Mills concept. Carolina has Newton under center with 12 personnel, with Olsen lined up on the right side of the offense with fellow tight end Ed Dickson (#84) aligned as an upback to the right side. Brown is in the slot on the left, with Ginn Jr. to the outside. New York has their 4-2-5 nickel defense set up showing Cover 2:
Newton executes a run-fake to Cameron Artis-Payne (#34) before retreating into the pocket. He wants to hit Ginn on the deep post route, but the coverage from safety Craig Dahl (#43) is perfect. So Newton brings his eyes down to his second option, where Brown is operating against the underneath zone defenders:
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Brown splits the linebackers, and pulls in a throw from Newton at midfield that gives the Panthers a fresh set of downs.
Another passing concept that Carolina uses is the levels design, giving Newton three receivers on one side of the field to choose from. Here, the Panthers employ a drive concept on the backside, setting up a high-low read for the quarterback. This gives Newton a full field read with options to both sides. Against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16 the offense faces 1st and 10 with Newton is in the shotgun and 12 personnel. They are using a TE trips formation to the right and Dickson split to the left. Atlanta’s base 4-3 defense is in the game, showing two-high safety coverage before the play:
The Panthers run the levels concept to the left: Dickson running a deep out and Artis-Payne releasing into the flat from the backfield. Olsen’s crossing pattern carries him across the formation, and he ends up also serving as the intermediate option in the three-man passing concept on this side of the field. The drive concept also features Brown running a deep dig pattern with Ginn executing the shallower in-route:
The Falcons run Cover 2 on this play, and when Newton checks the levels concept side of the field, the coverage is in position to take away all three options. The press cornerback stays with Dickson on the deep out route, while two linebackers cover the flat and crossing routes from Artis-Payne and Olsen, respectively. Newton then glances to the backside, and sees his receiver wide open in the middle of the field:
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Newton hits Brown in stride for a 15-yard gain and an easy first down.
Finally, here is a look at how Brown can be a factor when the Panthers employ RPO designs, building off the strength in their ground game to freeze a defense. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Panthers line up with 11 personnel and Newton in the shotgun. Facing 1st and 10 near midfield, they use a tight end trips right, with Brown as the outside receiver, and with a single receiver left. Tampa Bay’s 4-2-5 nickel defense shows Cover 2:
Carolina uses a run-pass option design, with Newton taking the snap, meeting Artis-Payne at the mesh point and scanning the defense. On the trips formation side, Olsen runs a curl route while Cotchery simulates a bubble screen look from his middle alignment in the trips. Brown runs a slant route:
Tampa Bay rolls to Cover 3 at the snap, blitzing a safety and a linebacker:
Seeing this, Newton pulls the football out of his running back’s belly and looks to throw. Both Olsen and Brown are open, and he chooses the wideout, hitting him in stride:
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Brown secures the pass and accelerates into Bucs territory, giving his team another first down.
While Newton grabs the bulk of the headlines, Brown has demonstrated the ability to be a vital weapon in this Panthers’ offense. Given the talented defense that the Panthers face this weekend, it might be the perfect opportunity for this young wideout to play a huge role – and help deliver his team to the Super Bowl.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.