CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — D.J. Moore has a running joke with Curtis Samuel before every game about which of the young Panthers receivers is “going to go off” that day.
Recently it’s been one or the other with a big game — and sometimes both.
The two versatile and dangerous speedsters — Moore is a rookie, while Samuel is in his second season and essentially a rookie as well after an injury-plagued 2017 — still have plenty to learn in Norv Turner’s offensive system, but their skillset and big-play ability is making the Panthers (6-2) more unpredictable and difficult to defend.
Coach Ron Rivera said Samuel and Moore have brought a “different dimension” to a Carolina offense that has erupted for 99 points in the last nine quarters.
Both are tough to catch, let alone tackle with the ball in their hands in the open field.
So Turner is doing everything he can to get the ball in their hands, not just as receivers, but as rushers, too. Together Samuel and Moore have run 10 times for 159 yards with two touchdowns on reverses or double reverses. They also have 27 catches for 403 yards and three TDs receiving entering Thursday night’s game at Pittsburgh.
“When they’re focused, there are no young players that I wouldn’t put those guys up against in this league because they have the physicality, the playmaking ability, and the want-to,” quarterback Cam Newton said of the team’s young dynamic duo.
On Sunday, it was Samuel who had the bigger impact.
Despite playing only 17 plays, he scored on a 33-yard double reverse, a play in which he reversed field and covered 103 yards on the ground according to the NFL’s NextGen Stats. Later, he made a leaping 19-yard touchdown catch in the end zone with a defender draped all over him to help seal Carolina’s 42-28 win over Tampa Bay .
“He is just explosive and he is a dynamic playmaker,” Rivera said of Samuel. “A lot like in the mold of D.J., he is tough to bring down. … We have a couple of young guys who can be explosive.”
Moore played 53 snaps and chipped in with a 32-yard run and a 16-yard reception vs. the Bucs, one week after posting a career-best 129 yards from scrimmage in a 36-21 win over Baltimore.
Samuel is finally healthy after missing the first three games of this season with a heart issue and most of last season with a broken ankle.
“It’s amazing after what happened last year,” Samuel said of his production. “To go down unexpectedly and to fight through the offseason and preparing myself to get back from my ankle injury, and to come back and finally be out there to make plays and contribute to the team, it’s amazing.”
Tight end Greg Olsen, who has been with the team since 2011, said the Panthers have never had this many offensive players that can tear off big gains with the ball in their hands. He said Samuel and Moore are making a difference.
But Rivera is quick to point out the duo hasn’t arrived just yet. They’re still making too many “mental errors” for his liking.
“You see some of the mistakes they make on tape and you see certain things in terms of their route running, their alignments and their assignments,” Rivera said.
Newton joked it may be time to bring a “paddle” into the huddle with Moore’s name (Deniston) on one side and Samuel’s nickname (Cupid) on the other to “keep them focused.”
“If they don’t focus, they’ll let an opportunity like we had slip away,” Newton said. “They have to understand where their alignment is, what their assignment is. We ask a lot from those guys and for them to be so young and dynamic they have to be able to digest the things that we’re throwing at them.”
Rivera would like them to eliminate those mistakes before Carolina’s crucial final three-game stretch of the season, which includes two games against the NFC South leading Saints (7-1).
“They are learning and growing and their ceiling is high, so the potential for them to be better is exciting,” Rivera said. “Hopefully we can continue to watch them grow in the next few weeks — and grow quickly.”
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