The Carolina Panthers will encounter the Minnesota Vikings at Bank of America Stadium for what appears to be a crucial Week 6 contest for both parties. The Panthers have dropped two games in a row after starting the new campaign a perfect 3-0, and will desperately be looking to get back in the win column on Sunday.
Before the ball kicks off, head coach Matt Rhule will have to make a fairly large decision that could impact Carolina’s chances on Sunday. Star running back Christian McCaffrey has been absent from the last two Panthers games, and according to multiple reports, is “50-50” to suit up on Sunday.
Carolina turned to rookie running back Chuba Hubbard in McCaffrey’s place and received mixed results. Over their past two defeats, Hubbard rushed for 158 yards on 37 carries, good for 4.2 yards per carry. Hubbard, who failed to find the end zone in either contest, lacks McCaffrey’s special playmaking ability, and Carolina’s offense was certainly hampered with him out of their lineup.
The yearning to utilize McCaffrey's skill set in Week 6 will be strong following back-to-back harrowing defeats, but Rhule and his staff must make a wise decision when dealing with the health of their engine. Hamstring injuries can be particularly irritating, and the chances of suffering a setback raise exponentially when not initially dealt with properly.
It's of the utmost importance that Rhule approaches the situation with great caution. After all, McCaffrey missed 13 of 16 games a year ago with recurring ankle and shoulder issues.
The Panthers' offense runs through McCaffrey, and the former Stanford standout shouldn't return to the field until he could handle his regular workload. Carolina's preference to lean on McCaffrey is no secret. He touched the ball a startling 926 times throughout the first three years of his career before missing the majority of 2020.
If the Panthers are going to achieve their lofty goals, it's imperative that McCaffrey remains healthy enough to play a starring role down the stretch. The recent additions of C.J. Henderson and Stephon Gilmore insinuates that general manager Scott Fitterer believes his team can win now. It would be a shame to witness their postseason aspirations dwindle because they rushed their face-of-the-franchise back a week too early.