CHARLOTTE – Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has seen so much football over the years, it’s not easy to truly wow him.
But running back Christian McCaffrey's 237-yard outing against the Seahawks was about as impressive as it gets.
“It was a great performance,” Turner said Thursday. “Sometimes the things you do match up with a defense, and we kind of got Seattle on their heels a little bit. Christian took advantage of it.
“You sit back and say, ‘Hey, that’s pretty neat what he did.’ But the best part about Christian is he would trade all that for a win.”
McCaffrey ran 17 times for 125 yards and a touchdown and also posted 11 receptions on 11 targets for 112 yards and a touchdown, becoming the first Panther to record at least 100 rushing and receiving yards in the same game.
“He can do most anything,” Turner said matter-of-factly.
And that’s the beauty of McCaffrey’s game. He’s the ultimate offensive weapon.
McCaffrey endured some criticism as a rookie last year when it came to running between the tackles. He finished the 2017 season with 435 rush yards and a 3.7 per-carry average.
It’s been a different story this year, as McCaffrey has already piled up 757 rush yards with a 4.9 per-carry average. The notoriously stingy and physical Seattle defense struggled to corral McCaffrey all day. His 59-yard run in the fourth quarter, which came between the tackles, is the longest so far in his NFL career.
“The word on the street was Christian couldn’t run inside,” Turner said. “His ability to run inside – that’s where it starts. Off of that it creates all those different things for him.”
His college production was staggering, and the Panthers were convinced he could be a star at the next level, investing the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on him. But head coach Ron Rivera acknowledged that it took some time for the staff to understand how best to utilize him. Turner, who replaced Mike Shula as coordinator this offseason, helped facilitate that process.
“Taking what he had done there (at Stanford) and transferring it onto the field here, I think we as coaches had to learn how to use him a lot more than he had to learn how to play the (NFL) game,” Rivera said.
McCaffrey’s 38-yard reception late in the first half against the Seahawks is a terrific example. Take a look below at the way McCaffrey comes out of the backfield and uses a head-fake to create an opening over the middle. His route-running skills are as advanced as they come at the running back position.
The Panthers ran a nearly identical play in last season’s Wild Card loss at New Orleans, as you can see.
And if you take a look at the very first play of the 2016 Rose Bowl between Stanford and Iowa, you’ll see an awfully similar play work wonders.
The Panthers have shown this year that they’re getting better and better at featuring their second-year running back’s unique abilities.
And as for McCaffrey himself? He’s getting better and better too.
“I’ve grown a lot. Looking at the tape from last year to this year, I’ve gotten better at a lot of things – still not 100 percent where I want to be,” McCaffrey said. “I love this game, and I’m always looking to learn and get better.”