Black & Blue Week 5 preview: Running backs key in a matchup of fan-favorite​ quarterbacks

Carolina Panthers

Every week, CBS 17’s Black & Blue Huddle will give you a preview of the Carolina Panthers’ upcoming matchup. We’ll also dive into storylines surrounding the Panthers and the rest of the NFL. This week, like last week, is all about the Panthers.

Kyle Allen. Gardner Minshew. Two unlikely foes that are hard to not root for.

Allen will come into this week’s matchup against the Jaguars looking to improve his career record to 4-0. The last quarterback to start their career 4-0? Jimmy Garappolo. He’d go on to win game number five and parlay it into a mega-contract some months after that.

That’s not to say Allen won’t receive a major payday down the road, but there are some who believe he should be the Panthers’ starter going forward. As far as the money goes though — he’s got a long way to go.

Fortunately for Allen, the Panthers defense has stepped up big time, especially in last week’s game vs. the Texans.

The Panthers would win despite three lost fumbles from Kyle Allen, which actually vaunted him into the history books:

As for Gardner Minshew, the one-time East Carolina Pirate, Uncle Rico favoring, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback may also be in line for a permanent starting job. His 7-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is tied with the likes of Tom Brady and better than guys like Matt Ryan, Phillip Rivers, and Jared Goff — all proven QBs in the league.

However it goes down, the quarterback matchup is not going to be the key to a win for the Panthers this week. It may be a good talker, you know — two backup quarterbacks keeping their teams afloat, albeit only being Week 5.

But this week it is pretty simple — the game changers will be the running backs.

It goes without saying that Christian McCaffrey has been everything the Panthers and their fans were hoping for when the team drafted him eighth overall.

It’s also tough to say whether McCaffrey has been forced to shoulder a bigger load due to Cam Newton being out, to take the pressure off of Allen only because he’s been a focal point since day one. Usually, his play dictates how the Panthers perform week to week.

McCaffrey is also on pace to etch his name into the history books by breaking the single-season NFL record for combined rushing and receiving yards.

McCaffrey leads the league in rushing with 411 yards and has caught 25 passes for 218 yards.

His total of 629 yards from scrimmage, an average of 157.25 yards per game, would equate to 2,516 yards over 16 games, helping him just inch past the record.

The record is currently held by ECU alum Chris Johnson (2,509 yards in 2009). Next on the list is Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk at 2,429 yards in 1999).

Needless to say, the company is great, should McCaffrey join the club.

He brilliantly handled a career-high 37 touches (27 carries, 10 receptions) to a tune of 179 total yards (93 rushing, 86 receiving).

The Jaguars still maintain a defense that flies around relentlessly, despite drama surrounding arguably the best player on the unit — cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Their front seven forces you to make mistakes their secondary is pretty solid too — even without Ramsey. What’s more is the Panthers’ obvious offensive line struggles, heightening the need for McCaffrey to be there on short passes and breaking down the defense in the run game.

He won’t get 37 touches this week. In fact, he might even get more. He’s already had the ball in his hands for 57.2 percent of the Panthers’ snaps.

A total of 179 yards will be hard to match, given the Jaguars’ solid overall defense.

Although the Panthers have one of the league’s best defenses, they have a tough test in the opposing backfield trying to slow down Leonard Fournette.

Fournette who was admittedly upset with his play to start the season has turned it up as of late.

“There ain’t no doubt about that,” Fournette said, via Mike DiRocco of ESPN. “It’s very frustrating. I want to . . . help the team as much as you can. I’m a running back first. I don’t mind pass blocking and those things, but I’m a running back first, so it’s very frustrating at times.”

His 225-yard outing against the Broncos in Week 4 elevated him to third in the league in rushing yards.

There have been four 200 rushing yard performances in the past three seasons in the NFL, the Broncos have given up three out of four.

So would you call Fournette’s breakout performance a fluke or a sign of things to come? I say the latter.

He’s healthy and the play of Minshew has probably taken pressure off of him. That’s called complementary football. For that reason though, he’ll be needed on Sunday if the Jags want to win.

As good as defensive backs James Bradberry, Donte Jackson, Eric Reid and the rest of the Panthers secondary has been, the team struggles stopping the run.

The Panthers defense ranks 1st in the NFL in passing yards given up per game at 156.8. By comparison, the team sits in 24th in rushing yards per game given up at 130.8.

While we’ve seen flashes of good to great things from Kyle Allen and Gardner Minshew, they are still very inexperienced at the NFL level and eventually, their 15 minutes of fame will end.

That’s where their backfield mates will come into play. This contest will be another close one for the Panthers. Don’t expect a ton of points to be scored — do count on one of the team’s running backs to make enough plays to put them in the win column.

The Panthers will take on the Jaguars on CBS 17 on Sunday at 1 p.m.

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