An expanded Super Bowl week edition of NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” on Friday featured a Panthers-themed halftime show of sorts, with head coach Ron Rivera and running back Christian McCaffrey stopping by the set in short order.
Here are some highlights from their TV time in Atlanta.
RIVERA was asked about the retirement of defensive end Julius Peppers, which was announced literally moments before Rivera took the stage.
“He’s had a tremendous career – 17 seasons, the last two with us,” Rivera said. “He started with us and I think it’s only fitting that he decides to retire as a Panther. It was a tremendous honor of mine to be able to coach him.”
Rivera of course was asked about the quarterback that started with the Panthers the same year he did. Cam Newton recently underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his throwing shoulder after he was sidelined for the final two games of the season because of soreness.
“With Cam, having gone through the procedure and it being a very positive outcome, we’re really optimistic going forward as we get into the offseason," Rivera said. "We most certainly do have to have a plan in place, making sure when we get an opportunity to rest him, we rest him and get him stretched, loose and ready to roll.”
Rivera also shared some perspective on Sunday's Super Bowl matchup. In reference to the Rams and their aggressive offensive approach under Sean McVay, Rivera was asked about the beginnings of “Riverboat Ron” in 2013 when some aggressive coaching decisions helped the Panthers bounce back from a slow start and jumpstart a run to the first of three consecutive NFC South titles.
“One of the unintended circumstances is that your players come to you after they complete the first down, score the touchdown and say, ‘Hey Coach, that’s the way to show some faith in us,’ ” Rivera said. “It’s kind of one of those things that you build off as a coach.”
In the case of the Patriots, Rivera was asked to pinpoint a key to his 2-0 record against them as a head coach. He pointed to making New England one-dimensional on offense.
“If they stay balanced – they don’t get enough credit for running the football as well as they do – that really puts a defense in a bind because now you’ve got to play honest football,” Rivera said. “But now if you can let your pass-rushers go and force (Tom) Brady to make quick throws, you give yourself a better chance.”
Rivera also was asked about McCaffrey for a mock “Match Game” concept that never happened because McCaffery wasn’t asked to answer the same questions when he was interviewed a few minutes later. But for what it’s worth, Rivera said McCaffrey’s best position on defense would be free safety and that he likens him as a running back to Darren Sproles.
MCCAFFREY in 2018 topped any season that Sproles has enjoyed during his lengthy and successful career, breaking the NFL record for receptions by a running back with 107.
What made him such a matchup nightmare in his second season?
“It helps having weapons around me,” McCaffrey said. “It’s cool when you’ve got guys who need to be accounted for, and obviously Cam does such a good job getting me the ball in the passing game.
“We go through our process all week on different things we can exploit in different defenses. It makes it fun. I was lucky and happy to have some success in the pass game this year. Obviously that record was pretty cool.”
Another mark that McCaffrey wishes he could have achieved was 2,000 yards from scrimmage, and he would have gotten it under different circumstances. He entered the season finale needing 75 yards to achieve the milestone and quickly racked up 40 of those on the opening drive, but one drive was all Rivera was willing to give McCaffrey given that the Panthers already knew they weren’t playing for a playoff spot.
“I was extremely bummed; I’m not going to lie,” McCaffrey said. “I was talking to Coach Rivera. Some of us only played a series or two in the last game, and I think I was 35 away. But he was like, ‘No, it’s smarter to just not risk it.’ He’s right.”
Rather than the “sophomore slump” that sometimes befalls rookie standouts in the NFL, McCaffrey was even better in his second season. He credited, in part, a full offseason with first-year coordinator Norv Turner after a rule regarding graduating rookies had kept McCaffrey away from organized team activities in 2017.
“I grew a lot, mentally and physically. I’m always trying to get bigger, faster, stronger. And at the end of the day, it slowed down for me. I understood blocking schemes (better),” McCaffrey said. “I got to go through OTAs with a new offensive coordinator in Coach Turner - who has coached some of the best backs in the world - and being able to pick his brain, being able to learn and grow and really understand the schemes and positions I think was one of the biggest things that helped me out.”