The top play in the Panther's playbook last season was definitely getting the ball to Steve Smith in any way, shape, or form.
The most effective way to get Steve the ball was to have him run a hitch route in which he takes one step back as soon as the ball is snapped and he gets the pass after about a one-or-two-step drop from Delhomme.
Normally the Panther's ran this in a single-back formation, with three wideouts with Muhammad or another good blocker on the same side as Smith.
After the ball is snapped Smith gets the screen pass within a couple of seconds and its up to him to use his strength, improvise, and pick up yardage. There is not one cornerback in the league who can take him down single-handedly.
This play was so effective because if the cornerback plays off of Steve then he has a good 8-10 yards that he will be able to gain before there is any contact. If the cornerback commits too hard then a simple sidestep or stiff arm will break him free for are large gain.
This play also changes the way that cornerbacks have play to him the rest of the game. They can choose to stay close and press Smith with the risk of getting burnt deep, or they can continue to play it safe and play off him with the risk of him breaking a tackle and scoring.
Another good thing about this play is that if Jake Delhomme is having a bad game, as far as his accuracy goes, then he can make this simple pass to Steve and it will help him get his confidence back and get the team so momentum.
Another one of the top plays for the Panthers in 2008 also involves Steve Smith. They set it with an I-form Two-WR formation with Smith on either side it doesn't really matter.
Once the ball is snapped Delhomme fakes the hand-off to DeAngelo which hopefully causes the safety's to bite.
However if they don't then Muhammad is running a crossing route and Delhomme can pump fake it to him, to try and get the safety's to bite again. While all this is happening Steve Smith runs a deep post route to the opposite corner of the field.
If the help-side safety committed to the run or the short pass to Muhammad then it is nothing but daylight in the way of Steve Smith and the end zone.
This normally happens but if the safety does stay put then Steve just runs right by him anyways which just makes the play more difficult, but we all know how great he is at going up and getting the ball in the air.
He is probably the best receiver in the league, not named Larry Fitzgerald, at going and getting the ball, and that is saying something considering he is only 5'9", if that.
One of the best plays for the Panthers on third-down with about five or seven yards to go is the quick WR slants or drags. The play is set up in a single-back formation with three WR. Steve Smith runs a quick slant or drag across the middle and normally is open.
The reason he is able to get open is because the slot receiver picks the cornerback on Smith.
The slot receiver runs a quick out route while Smith runs a slant which causes the opposing cornerbacks to run into each other or run into the slot WR. This frees up Smith for a quick pass and a long gain after the pass if the linebackers aren't home.
If Smith doesn't happen to be open then the second read is to throw it to the RB coming out of the backfield running a flat route.
Normally the only reason Smith wouldn't be open is if the opposing D is running a zone like a Cover Two or another short pass coverage.
Having a RB run the flat is normally another great option considering the fact that if the defense is in a cover two, then there is only a cornerback out there in the open field to tackle the RB, which normally isn't going to happen.
Every Panther's fan hates this next play that I'm going to mention as one of my top plays for 2008, but I have actually grown to like it.
It is the HB draw on third and long. Hear me out. It is 3rd-and-16, the Panthers come out in a shotgun formation with three WR's, a RB, and a TE or FB (doesn't really matter which).
The Panthers come out looking like they are going to bomb it out and go for the first down aggressively. The fans are pumped they are ready for a long pass, screaming and yelling, then the ball is snapped everyone is quiet and the Panthers run a boring HB draw.
The handoff is delayed, then DeAngelo breaks it for a 20-yard gain and everyone is cheering. Now this is best case scenario but this play normally is always good for a 10+ yard gain, because the defense is on their heels and they are not expecting the run.
The defense also normally has a bunch of weak tackling defensive backs out on the field because they are in a nickel or dime formation. The Panthers run this play mainly to get better field position for the punt.
The coaches don't expect a first down but if they get one then it is like an added bonus and they look like geniuses. This play is one of the hidden gems in the Panthers playbook and I am surprised it is not used around this copycat league more often.
The best running play on any down for the Panthers in 2008 was the HB misdirection. I don't think there is any running back in the league better than DeAngelo Williams at faking one way and going another.
The Panthers normally did this in an I-form with the entire offensive line, tight end, and full back going one way and then DeAngelo breaking it out for a huge gain the opposite way.
Now of course this has to be set up throughout the game with a bunch of direct runs to the right, left, and middle of the field. Once the coaches decide it is a good time to call a HB misdirection it normally always works.
When the ball is snapped DeAngelo takes it from Delhomme then he acts like it is a direct run to the left or right, making sure that he is following his blocking. Patience is key to this play because DeAngelo has to wait and make sure that the play has time develop in which the defense commits to one side of the field.
Once DeAngelo decides it is time, he viciously cuts back to the other side of the field with only a couple of defenders to beat.
Every Panthers fan knows that one or two defenders alone are not likely to tackle DeAngelo especially a helpless cornerback that is normally on the other side of the field nonchalantly expecting not to be involved on a run play which looks to be like it is on the other side of the field, opposite of him.
Once DeAngelo beats the helpless cornerback he is off to the races normally celebrating with Jonathan Stewart after he has just burnt the defense for a long TD run.
I know this article is just supposed to be the top five plays for the Panthers 2008 season, but this next play is the best play for every football team in the league.
It is the QB kneel. Every fan loves when their team takes a knee and runs the clock out after a hard fought victory.
It may be a very boring play but it signifies a very important win throughout the course of the brutal NFL season.