Packers' next opponent: Panthers rush in behind MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey
The Green Bay Packers (7-2) will be back in Lambeau Field on Sunday after losing for the first time on the road. They welcome in the Carolina Panthers (5-3).
Basics on the Panthers
The Panthers remained in the NFC playoff race with a 30-20 victory over the Tennessee Titans, which was their fifth win in six games. Most Valuable Player candidate Christian McCaffrey rushed 24 times for 146 yards and two scores and caught three passes for 20 more yards and a score.
Longtime NFL offensive coordinator Norv Turner is coordinating the offense and runs a variation of the Ron Erhardt-Ray Perkins offensive system. It focuses on getting plays out quickly while utilizing a short passing game off a run emphasis.
The defense is run by defensive coordinator Eric Washington, who is in his second season in that role but has been with head coach Ron Rivera since 2011. It was Rivera who switched things up and the Panthers now run a base 3-4. This was done to better utilize hybrid pass rushers and the Panthers have 34 sacks, which is just one less than they had all last season.
Panthers' record with backup quarterback Kyle Allen.
Sacks by defensive end Mario Addison.
Yards per pass attempt by Allen, tied for 24th in the NFL.
Touchdowns by McCaffrey (10 rushing, 3 receiving)
Rushing attempts by McCaffrey, as he is a true No. 1 running back.
Players to watch
Christian McCaffrey, RB
The 23-year-old running back was the No. 8 overall pick in 2017 and is producing total offense at a pace not seen in the league since Priest Holmes had more than 2,200 yards of total offense in 2002 for Kansas City. McCaffrey had already proven to be a true “dual-threat” runner and receiver, but this season he has turned into a true workhorse running back – the Panthers do not run the ball if they are not handing it off to him.
Kyle Allen, QB
Allen took over for an injured Cam Newton in Week 3 and the Panthers have gone 5-1 since behind the 23-year-old backup. Newton was placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday after getting his injured foot reevaluated by Dr. Robert Anderson in Green Bay, and Allen has managed the offense. In the only loss under his direction, he threw three interceptions – otherwise he has a 9-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Brian Burns, EDGE
The rookie out of Florida State was someone Packers fans had hoped their team might take in the first round of the NFL draft, but the Panthers scooped him up at No. 16. He has 4.5 sacks and 11 hits on opposing quarterbacks. He has also forced one fumble and recovered another, racing 56 yards and scoring off of it.
Reasons to worry
Rivera is a smart defensive coach, and he no doubt will see the issues that Kansas City and Los Angeles presented the Packers' offensive line the last two weeks regarding pressure on Aaron Rodgers. Thirteen defenders have at least a half sack, but the bulk of the pressure is coming from the defensive ends and linebackers. Bruce Irvin has 3.5 sacks since returning from an early-season injury.
The Packers have clear problems defensively that most teams have been able to take advantage of all season: defending the run and defending the middle of the field in passing situations. Unfortunately for them, they are facing a committed and explosive rushing attack. Tight end Greg Olsen is 34 and is not the same type of player he once was, but expect the Panthers to try to get him involved.
Reasons to relax
Allen, 23, is in his second year after making the Panthers as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Houston. He now has seven starts under his belt and the Panthers are 6-1 in those games – including 4-1 on the road. But after shining in his first two starts (71.6% completions, 118 rating), teams have figured him out. Allen is completing just 55.7% of his throws for a 73.9 rating. He has been sacked 20 times as well. If Green Bay can get after him and force him to make throws to win the game, rather than just manage the game, the Packers should be in good shape.
The Panthers have a slightly below-average defense heading in, ranking No. 19 overall. They are No. 8 against the pass because teams have run it on them (No. 26). Packers head coach Matt LaFleur didn’t like how his game plan unfolded in L.A. and if the Packers return to a run-first attack at Lambeau Field, Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams could find some running lanes against an aggressive Panthers rush.