CHARLOTTE -- Christian McCaffrey put the offense on his back against the Rams last Sunday, there’s no doubting that.
“As I’m reviewing plays and I’m turning the plays… H this, H that,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “If you don’t know, he’s the H. I think coach’s got C-Mac up for fantasy this week, I think that’s what it is. Doggone Norv done picked C-Mac for fantasy!”
Newton's jokes aside, McCaffrey really did do it all for the Panthers. But with a quick turnaround before Thursday night’s matchup with the Buccaneers and a long season ahead, can the team bank on monster performances from the third-year running back every single week?
As good as McCaffrey is, we all know the answer to that question is no.
On Monday, head coach Ron Rivera acknowledged wanting to work running backs like Reggie Bonnafon and Jordan Scarlett into the rotation, but it’s hard not to keep feeding a player as dynamic as McCaffrey, who played all 67 snaps on offense. For longevity’s sake, though, it’d be nice to share the wealth a little bit, to ensure McCaffrey can keep gashing defenses throughout December and into January.
There’s no shortage of weapons on the Panthers offense, it’s just a matter of finding a way to get the ball in their hands. With so many threats, wide receiver Jarius Wright said games where one player stands out aren’t necessarily something to be concerned about, but instead they’re the norm.
“That’s usually how it works,” Wright said. “One guy has a great game this game, next guy has a great game the next game. That’s why it’s so good to have all us playmakers like that. It’s good to have that many people that you know that can make those types of plays. We’re unselfish. We don’t care who it is. Whoever’s day it is, that’s good, but at the end of the day we want the win.”
Wright and fellow wide receiver Curtis Samuel accounted for just four catches on Sunday, a number that’s going to need to increase to lighten the load on McCaffrey. Last season, Wright cemented himself as a go-to target on third downs, leading the team with nine receiving first downs. Samuel said he hopes the receiving corps can get more involved and help stretch the field on Thursday night.
“Wherever the ball’s going to go, it’s going to go. Whatever areas are open,” Samuel said. “We’re going to go out there and try our best to make things happen in the passing game outside.”
So how exactly can the Panthers do that in Week 2 against the Buccaneers? Two of the biggest keys to spreading the ball around are extending drives and staying ahead of the chains. Both play an instrumental role in allowing the offense to truly utilize the entire playbook.
“The more we can keep possession of the ball, the more we can run our other plays,” Wright said. “We don’t ever want to be in third-and-long, third-and-15. Sometimes we have to check down to the running back due to some things they’re doing due to the position that we put ourselves in. Stay on the field, make third downs, and that’ll be a way that everybody can get the ball more.”
Check out photos from Tuesday's practice as the Panthers prepare to take on Tampa Bay on Thursday night football.