Carolina Panthers

Panthers mailbag: Time for more Reggie Bonnafon and less Christian McCaffrey?

In an exceptionally bad British accent: Cheerio for the questions this week, mates! Some delightful inquiries you’ve got about the football this weekend.

OK, forget the accent. I apologize for myself. I said I wouldn’t try it and well, here we are. Back to the matter at hand, as Ron Rivera would say; this is a business trip for the media, as well.

And although it’s hard to discern that at times — even in a sleep-deprived state, London is an explorer’s dream — Rivera is right. The Panthers play the Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with a shot at a fourth consecutive win on the line. Considering Carolina has a bye next week, this is the last real test of the first part of the 2019 season.

This international trip, the first in team history, hasn’t necessarily complicated things any, but it has distracted somewhat from the task at hand — winning.

What is Efe Obada most excited about for this trip to London?

Uh, is ‘all of it’ a cop-out answer?

Obada has been the main attraction this week for American and British media, which is understandable. He grew up in London with a heartbreaking childhood, and ultimately became the first player from the NFL’s International Pathway Program to make a 53-man roster. If you haven’t read an Efe Obada story yet this week, it’s because you’ve been actively avoiding them.

While Obada’s past has been a huge topic of discussion, let’s not forget this really is a homecoming for him. What he’s most excited about? The food definitely ranks high on the list. He has been asked this week about his preference at Nando’s, a chain chicken restaurant well-known for its sauces. He also recommended I try Wagamama, another popular Asian chain in England.

But realistically, I think Obada is most excited about the opportunity to show how much he has grown. He has developed as a player, and even if much of this week has been about him playing ambassador, and he has handled it well. There are a lot of emotions for him returning to a place that’s home, but also a place of great pain. I think more than anything, he wants to enjoy his time, see his people and go home with a win. So far, two of the three are done.

Is there less hesitance to rest Christian McCaffrey now that we’ve seen what Reggie Bonnafon can do running the ball?

I asked Rivera almost this exact question during his Friday morning press conference, and the answer echoes what offensive coordinator Norv Turner said earlier this week:

“I know in Norv’s eyes that he’s pretty excited about things that Reggie has done,” Rivera said. “To have Norv speak of him just shows you he has confidence, so don’t be surprised if he gets some more opportunities.”

Bonnafon’s 59-yard touchdown against Jacksonville last week — and overall breakout performance — was a wake-up call signalling that he has potential and that McCaffrey is still human (Bonnafon was only in the game because McCaffrey was cramping). After nursing a sore back this week, McCaffrey could probably stand to have a little more help in the backfield. I wouldn’t expect Bonnafon to get more than five or six touches given McCaffrey’s productivity, but he’s earned that at least.

How do you think the Panthers will neutralize Chris Godwin? Will Donte Jackson be guarding Godwin, or will Ross Cockrell?

Neutralize might not be the best word here. Contain is probably more like it.

The Bucs have one of, if not the, best 1-2 receiver pairings in the NFL right now. Mike Evans is a legitimate No. 1 with tremendous physicality to his game — he has had five straight 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career — but Godwin has the hot hand right now. The third-year receiver already has 511 yards through five games, third-most in the NFL, and six touchdowns. Also, he burned the Panthers for 121 yards and a score in the first meeting in Week 2.

All that to say, the Panthers need a better plan for limiting his productivity. Godwin was mostly matched up against second-year corner Donte Jackson in Week 2, and he took advantage of Jackson’s tendency to take risks in coverage. Jackson has missed the last two games with a groin injury.

I’d expect the Panthers to rotate coverage on Godwin. James Bradberry will largely be tasked with handling Evans, and he has proven he’s up to that job. But a combination of Jackson and Cockrell, who should play more nickel and safety this week, seems to make sense in bracketing Godwin. Realistically, the Panthers’ best hopes for slowing Evans and Godwin is with a ferocious pass rush on Jameis Winston.

Receivers can’t beat you if their quarterback can’t get them the ball.

Thoughts on Greg Olsen’s zero catches last week?

I don’t have any concerns about it. Backup quarterback Kyle Allen was asked about this earlier in the week, and he astutely pointed out that Olsen isn’t that sort of player to worry about his individual statistics. As the Panthers’ oldest player at 34 — and I know he hates that constantly being mentioned — Olsen knows at this point in his career, the only thing that matters is winning.

Also, the Panthers’ gameplan against the Jaguars last week was much more run-focused. Christian McCaffrey had 237 scrimmage yards, and the team ran for more than 285 yards on the ground. When you’re having that sort of success running the ball, you keep extra blockers in and pound the rock.

That won’t be the case Sunday. The Bucs have the worst passing defense in the league, so Allen should (in theory) be looking to throw early and often. Given his rapport with Olsen, the veteran tight end should be a frequent target. I’d be shocked if he goes catchless again.

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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