Carolina Panthers runningback Christian McCaffrey had a hefty workload against the San Francisco 49ers. The rookie runningback found himself with 18 touches on the day for 85 yards, averaging 4.72 yards per touch. While playcalling at times hampered his potential, he still found ways to make an impact on the field.
Even so, it’s what he did to the 49ers defense that really stands out. Not only did he find holes and lanes against the defense, his presence forced the defense to account for him.
So, it came as no surprise to see glimpses of the potential this offense brings. Many plays were possible because of the match-up problems McCaffrey presents. So, without further ado, here’s a sneak peak of the Panthers offense’s potential.
Russell Shepard’s Touchdown
Perhaps one of the more subtle examples of McCaffrey’s impact is how he led WR Russell Shepard to a wide open touchdown.
On the play above above, the Panthers are in a 3×1 formation. The 49ers are playing what appears to be half zone and half man with a single high safety in the back. While there are plausible arguments the 49ers were playing straight man, it’s more than likely some weird zone concept on the left side.
The Panthers dialed up a Y cross concept against this weird defensive formation. Olsen and CMC draw out the three defenders playing zone while the two outside receivers on the right lead away the two other man defenders, allowing Russell Shepard to cross the middle and draw the single high safety.
The result? Shepard takes the easy match-up the play presented, and finds himself in the endzone.
What’s interesting is how this play would not have been possible if McCaffrey were not a threat. Three 49er defenders tried to cover the underneath routes from Olsen and especially McCaffrey, after realizing he’s a threat. This allows Shepard to get wide open for an easy match-up against the high safety.
Any other guy, and the 49ers would likely shift attention towards Shepard. However, Christian McCaffrey poses himself as a threat on a similar level as Olsen, distracting the defense and leading them to ignore other areas.
This is the impact McCaffrey brings to the table: creating mismatches.
Getting Ed Dickson Wide Open
On another play, Christian McCaffrey creates yet another wide open play as he directs the defense’s attention to himself.
Once again, the 49ers are in a cover one concept with a single high safety deep. The Panthers play out of a 3×1 formation with TE Ed Dickson playing the slot. Meanwhile, RB Christian McCaffrey is in the backfield.
What makes this interesting is how the 49er defense reacts to Christian McCaffrey.
The rookie runningback runs out of the backfield and cuts right across the middle. He draws three defenders towards him as he runs, allowing Dickson to fly pass them without notice.
While Cam Newton completely overthrows Dickson, the potential of this play is what counts. Christian McCaffrey became the sole worry for the 49er defense, forcing a bust in the coverage. This allows Ed Dickson wide open for a potential easy touchdown.
Once again, Christian McCaffrey creates match-up issues and busts in coverages. He’s a very key player for the Panthers.
Jonathan Stewart’s Touchdown
Finally, Christian McCaffrey also had a lot to do with Jonathan Stewart’s acrobatic touchdown.
As seen above, the 49ers are in cover 3 and rush five men. Meanwhile, Cam Newton dumps off the ball to Jonathan Stewart. The Panthers set up blocks downfield and ultimately lead Stewart to his flipping touchdown.
Notice what Christian McCaffrey does. He runs the flat and leads a few 49er defenders to follow him. This opens up a large lane for Stewart to run through. Christian McCaffrey finishes off with a nice block, allowing Stewart to get in the endzone.
Once again, defenses have to account for McCaffrey once again at the cost of others. Panthers used McCaffrey well as a decoy, allowing the touchdown that followed. This is the type of mismatch problems this offense has the potential to create.
Sure. This offense isn’t 100% yet. It’ll take a few weeks before it finally gets to that “evolution” the Panthers keep hinting at. However, do expect Christian McCaffrey to be a huge reason for the offense’s success really soon.