Panthers keeping it simple, riding Christian McCaffrey to huge gains

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers were in a one-back, one-tight end, three-wide receiver set when Christian McCaffrey broke free for a career-best 84-yard touchdown run between the left guard and tackle in the third quarter.

They were in the same formation in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 34-27 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars when Reggie Bonnafon busted a 59-yard touchdown run between the right guard and tackle.

On both plays, tight end Greg Olsen played off the line behind the tackle and wide receiver Curtis Samuel was to his outside.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever in my career heard the same call in the huddle so many times,” Olsen said after Carolina (3-2) ran its winning streak to three straight. “Every time I looked up, Christian or Reggie was running. It worked.

“Credit to Norv [Turner, offensive coordinator] and them for not making it hard.”

The Panthers have simplified a lot since Kyle Allen took over for injured quarterback Cam Newton (Lisfranc sprain) after an 0-2 start. McCaffrey and the running game have benefited the most.

Since rushing for only 37 yards and having only 53 yards from scrimmage in a Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay -- Carolina’s next opponent on Sunday in London -- McCaffrey has been on a tear.

In the last three games, he's had 604 total yards from scrimmage -- including three straight games of 179 yards or more -- and five touchdowns. His 237 yards against Jacksonville tied a franchise record that he set last year against Seattle.

And much of it came on a play the Panthers ran over and over.

“It’s demoralizing,” said Carolina outside linebacker Mario Addison, who added another sack to reach a team-leading 6.5. “It sends a message. It’s tiring. You can’t do nothing about it. You can’t stop it. I feel for those guys [the Jaguars].”

Pro Bowl defensive end Gerald McCoy agreed.

“I’m just glad we don’t have to do it,” he said of stopping McCaffrey. “He’s next level. He’s MVP of the league right now.”

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes and a few others might have a say in the MVP talk, but McCaffrey has set the stage for a run at the title Newton won in 2015.

McCaffrey leads the NFL in rushing with 587 yards and his 866 yards from scrimmage are the second most in league history after five games, behind the 988 yards that NFL legend Jim Brown had in 1963.

The Panthers essentially ran variations of the same play over and over.

They ran from the formation used on the long touchdowns on 47 of 61 plays (77 percent) for 383 of their 445 yards, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The play had a success rate of 51 percent, with an average of 8.15 yards per play.

Bonnafon didn’t want to get into team secrets, so when asked to identify the play, he jokingly called it “touchdown.”

It just shows that even the simplest of plays, when run effectively, can be dangerous. Add a player of McCaffrey’s talent to the equation and you’re going to have monster games like Sunday, even though cramps sidelined him late in the fourth quarter.

“He’s human,” Olsen said. “He gets tired like everybody else. But we got what we needed out of him.”

And more.

McCaffrey also leaped and flipped in gaining the final two yards of a 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

“Christian amazes me every week doing something crazy,” said Carolina first-round pick Brian Burns, who returned a fumble 56 yards for his first NFL touchdown. “He just jumped over some guy and made that guy hit another guy. I’ve never seen nothing like it before.”