With Philly Brown Likely Out, Rookie Devin Funchess Gets First Career Start

Panthers rookie and 2nd round draft pick Devin Funchess is slated to get his first career start Sunday.  Philly Brown suffered a shoulder injury this week, and as bad as you hate to see any player injured, the timing couldn't be better for 'Fun Fun.'

After struggling with some bad drops early in the season, Funchess has secured seven of his last eight targets for 140 yards and a touchdown. That's good for an average of 20 yards per catch.

He broke loose first against Green Bay's secondary where he hauled in three of his four targets for 71 yards and a touchdown. Funchess finally used his large sized frame to block out his defender from the ball on a slant, make the catch, and drag two defenders into the end zone. The bulk of his yards  in that game came on an absolutely beautiful Cam Newton deep ball with a defender hanging on his back for dear life.  Funchess was still able to pull in the catch even with defensive pass interference. 

Last week against the Titans, Funchess made the most of his two targets. Securing them both for 41 yards, one of which he shook his defender out of his shoes on a great route before making an all hands catch  for a 27 yard gain.

Philly Brown has been on the field more than any other receiver for the Panthers, albeit he has not been the most targeted. Even still, Brown has only been targeted three more times than Funchess with 18 versus Funchess's 15. This is suggestive of the chemistry emerging between Funchess and quarterback Cam Newton.

What the Panthers will miss of Brown most is the schematic advantages in the run game.  Shula has moved Brown into the backfield and brought in some change of pace concepts, reversing field and capitalizing on Brown's track speed.  He's also developed quickly into a  solid route runner. Depth is also a concern here, but Brown's injury isn't expected to be serious, so this concern is temporary. 

Brown is on pace to pass to surpass his 296 yard rookie receiving totals just past the halfway mark, teams are staring to catch his role in various Carolina run schemes.  Shula surely would like to have him, but can only be losing so much sleep tonight.

This could spell bad news for an already reeling Redskins secondary this week if 'Fun Fun' continues to improve this week. Washington's safeties are rated the worst in the NFL by Pro Football Focus and their defensive backs have been banged up all season. According to Evan Silva of Rotoworld.com, the Redskins secondary has been getting eaten up with  "85-of-122 passing (69.7%), 1,058 yards (8.67 YPA), and an 8:3 TD-to-INT ratio." Not to mention Washington's defense is also ranked 28th in the league in sacks. All of this smells like recipe for disaster if the Panthers offensive line can keep Cam Newton clean in the pocket with Andrew Norwell out again this week.

If Devin Funchess can continue this solid streak he is on and show out on his first career start this weekend, it could prove to be a very big improvement down the stretch for an offense already averaging 28.5 points per game. Good for third in the NFL. If this comes true, the Panthers red zone threats could nearly double over night.

By Tripp Morgan