When the 2020 NFL schedule first came out, the Week 14 matchup between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers looked like a likely offensive explosion with all skill players available on both sides of the ball.
Fast forward 14 weeks, day-to-day injuries and a pandemic are in full swing, and well, that offensive firepower has dwindled for the moment. Likely out on Sunday are Panthers' running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver D.J. Moore, two of Carolina’s very best players.
That’s a significant break for Denver, but there’s one guy still available for Panthers' quarterback Teddy Bridgewater that could give the Broncos fits on Sunday in Carolina.
Robby Anderson, a fifth-year wide receiver out of Temple, has put together quite the career so far as an undrafted free agent, going from a roster long shot to a legit No. 2 receiver in a solid offense.
Through five seasons, Anderson has 282 receptions, 3,971 yards, and 22 touchdowns, including a career-high 75 catches for 912 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games with the Panthers this year.
Panthers' offensive coordinator Joe Brady has really opened things up for Bridgewater, which in turn has created a number of opportunities for guys like Anderson, Moore, and Curtis Samuel.
Anderson has always had the talent and flashed a ton in New York with the Jets, but now playing with the best quarterback he’s had in his career, he’s taken off, becoming a well-rounded receiver in an up-tempo attack. Anderson's last matchup vs. the Broncos, which came as a Jet in 2018, saw him rack up three receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
What does the film reveal about the player Anderson is now in Carolina? Let's dive in.
In New York, Anderson was mostly a home run threat. In Carolina, Brady has really turned him into a complete receiver from a route running and usage perspective.
He still has the home run ability (more on that later), but he’s really turned into a solid possession receiver for the Panthers. I’ve seen Anderson used over the middle more in Carolina than I remember in New York.
Brady does a nice job of moving Anderson around, leading to easy catches and room to run for Anderson with the ball in his hands.
A simple crossing route here from Anderson, but he does a nice job staying flat underneath the dropping linebackers, giving backup quarterback Phillip (formerly known as P.J.) Walker an easy dump-off over the middle, which he turns into an 18-yard gain.
It might not look like much on tape, but Anderson has shown the ability to take short dump-offs to the house.
Again, Brady does an awesome job scheming up the route concepts here out of bunch, freeing up Anderson on the crossing route. The bunch set stresses the Vikings’ defense, leading to defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, resulting in a 41-yard catch-and-run for the score.
Home Run Threat
You’ll see a lot of LSU’s 2019 offense in the 2020 Panthers, obviously. That includes the deep shots, which usually go to Anderson.
He’s really turned into a solid route runner in Carolina, allowing him to cook defensive backs week to week.
I really like the way Brady moves Anderson around pre-snap. Here, Brady draws up Anderson moving left to right in motion to identify zone coverage.
That leads to a clean release for Anderson on the out and up. Look at the way he sells the out with a hard shift in body weight, forcing rookie Damon Arnette to bite hard in his first career start.
Anderson has the strength to blow through the hold by Arnette, leading to the catch down the field, forcing a miss on safety Eric Harris, leading to the 75-yard touchdown.
The attention to detail and the ability to sell the double move are fantastic here from Anderson.
Again, that’s a rookie corner from Minnesota, but his ability to shift his weight easily here and blow past the flat-footed corner is superb. A better throw here and this is six for Anderson.
That said, he does a great job tracking the football, tapping both feet inbounds for the 34-yard catch.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy from Anderson when working vertically. He’s a 4.3 talent that has long legs and chews up the field in a hurry. When that happens, if he’s even, he’s leavin’.
What a catch here from Anderson too.
Broncos' Best Hope
The fortunate part for Denver this week is that they don’t have to worry about McCaffrey or Moore receiving touches.
Yes, Mike Davis has played really well in place of McCaffrey, but he’s not a guy you worry about beating you.
With no Moore, all attention should be on Anderson. Play man-to-man, roll coverage and really bracket Anderson. You cannot let him hit a home run or two in this game.
Limit the 20-plus-yard catches and tackle after the catch — that's how to ensure Anderson doesn’t single-handedly beat you.
You can live with Samuel beating you if you’re Vic Fangio and the Broncos. What you can’t live with is Anderson going off as the main weapon.