CHARLOTTE – The Panthers offense has endured a barrage of injuries impacting its offensive line and running back corps.
That has hurt the consistency of their quarterback, who is just getting over a series of injury issues himself.
The team's wide receivers have exceeded expectations at times but have been subject to the up-and-down reality of a rookie leading the way.
There's been a lot of adversity facing the offense over the first half of the season, but there's always been tight end Greg Olsen
Or there had always been Olsen – until the other challenges curtailing the offense made it more difficult to keep Olsen involved.
"It's been hard on him," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Greg is a playmaker for us. We've got to get the ball in his hands."
In the Panthers' first seven games, Olsen averaged almost six catches and was targeted more than eight times per game. In the last two games, home losses in which the offense has scored just one touchdown, Olsen has caught four passes and been targeted a total of seven times.
It isn't that Olsen's level of play has slipped. It's that with everything else going on, he's had to slip into other roles as well.
"He's had to help more with the protection," Rivera said. "With the different things that we do, he's not in the route immediately, so that takes away from his visibility to the quarterback.
"Instead of being downfield where he normally is, now he's working off of a chip, and sometimes you can get caught up in that and are late coming out."
Olsen, known for being a well-rounded tight end, always does whatever is asked of him, and out of necessity he's been asked to do more that doesn't involve just catching the ball. The team captain is the definition of a team player, but it can wear on even the best teammate when things are not going well for the team.
"I don't really know what to say," said Olsen, whose three catches Thursday against New Orleans actually paced the Panthers in their 28-10 loss. "I try to run my routes and get open. There is a lot that goes into who gets the ball and when you get the ball. There are a lot of moving parts that go into it.
"This is a group thing. This is not on one guy. We need to do a better job protecting him (quarterback Cam Newton), we need to do a better job getting open, we need to do a better job catching the ball. Every single aspect of basic football needs to improve.
"We need to play better. It's not a secret. This is not rocket science."
It's also not difficult to surmise that with several starters likely to return from injury when the Panthers play again in nine days, the offense will have a shot at playing better football. It's still a good ways out, but Rivera sounded confident that starting tackle Byron Bell and guard Amini Silatolu would be back for Carolina's visit to Philadelphia for Monday Night Football. Also expected back – fittingly given the destination – is wide receiver Philly Brown.
And, with the running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart coming off their first game together since Week 1, they should play a bigger role going forward.
"Now that they're healthy, we have to find ways to put it in their hands. It's very obvious," Rivera said. "We saw when we got the ball in Jonathan's hands, running the ball inside. We saw it when DeAngelo was out on the edge a couple of times and again on the screen pass. As coaches we see it, and we've talked about it already this morning. These are things we need to take a serious look at.
"We have guys that have the ability to make plays. Greg is one of them."
Olsen can do everything a coach can ask from a tight end, but when he's asked to do everything all at the same time because of injuries and inconsistencies elsewhere, it can put a strain on his game.
But as the Panthers heal up and the coaches coach them up, Olsen should be able to get back to doing more of what he does best.