Christian McCaffrey’s injuries drastically change Panthers’ offense

Another season, another serious injury for Christian McCaffrey.

Another season, another serious injury for Christian McCaffrey.
Image: Getty Images

Here we go again for Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey. For the second consecutive year, McCaffrey will miss significant time on the field due to an injury. The Panthers have placed their All-Pro running back on injured reserve with a strained hamstring, and he won’t be eligible to return until Week 9.

McCaffrey has only played in three games this year. The Panthers got off to a hot 3-0 start, but have dropped their last two games without McCaffrey on the field. He’s such a huge part of Carolina’s offense, and such a welcome safety blanket for quarterback Sam Darnold as a dual-threat back who can both run and catch the ball out of the backfield. Taking McCaffrey out of that equation is an extreme handicap for this team.

Luckily for the Panthers, McCaffrey will be able to return in a few weeks. But hamstring injuries can be tricky. He initially strained it in the team’s Week 3 victory over the Houston Texans. McCaffrey had participated in a handful of practices (in a limited capacity) since the initial strain before tweaking it again recently, which led to the Panthers officially placing him on IR over the weekend.

It seems like once a player begins to accumulate so many injuries, it begins to cause a snowball effect, especially at the running back position. Every NFL player is dealing with some type of nagging injury, for the most part, but it’s the ones that keep guys out for weeks at a time that make teams and fans worry.

Sunday will be McCaffrey’s third missed game this year, when the Panthers host the Minnesota Vikings. This sounds like a game Carolina should win, but so did the game against Philly last week. And the Eagles came out on top, 21-18.

The Panthers’ offense is different without McCaffrey, and opposing teams know this. In their first three games this season, all with McCaffrey — and all wins — Carolina averaged 390 total yards on offense. And McCaffrey hurt his hamstring in the second quarter of that third game. But in Carolina’s two subsequent losses since McCaffrey went down, its offense is averaging just 323 yards per game.

Hopefully, McCaffrey doesn’t end up being one of those players who miss multiple games each year with nagging injuries like this hamstring. We see this all too often, especially with backs who are such a big part of their team’s offensive scheme. In 2018, McCaffrey’s second year, he ran for 1,098 yards and added another 867 yards receiving. McCaffrey was then named to the NFL’s All-Pro squad in 2019, when he rushed for 1,387 yards and racked up 1,005 receiving yards, becoming the third player in NFL history to accomplish that feat. Such high usage is precisely why most workhorse running backs don’t last long in the NFL. Teams use these guys up within their first 3-4 years, then they’re never the same after that.

If the Panthers want this kid to last for the long-term, they will need to find a way to bring his snap count down just a bit. He’s unquestionably one of the top young rushers in the league. Still, as we’ve witnessed, the injuries seem to be accumulating, and he’s beginning to spend more time on the sideline than on the field. But we know the machine tends to chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out. Let’s just hope these two years are an anomaly for McCaffrey and not the norm moving forward.

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