In his first extended action with the San Francisco 49ers, running back Christian McCaffrey showed why Kyle Shanahan wanted him so badly.
Christian McCaffrey could have played in any era with his skill set. In this era, he’s unstoppable.
McCaffrey, a do-it-all threat for the San Francisco 49ers, put on a display for his new team on Sunday in a 31-14 rout of the Los Angeles Rams. The All-Pro running back accounted for 183 total yards and three touchdowns, including one each as a passer, runner and receiver.
The Niners, who traded 2023 second, third and fourth-round draft picks, along with a 2024 fifth-rounder for McCaffrey on Oct. 20, fully unleashed the former Carolina Panthers star for the first time in red and gold.
The result was impactful plays both obvious and hidden.
While the three scores are going to capture most people’s attention, McCaffrey’s presence was felt in myriad ways.
Against the Rams, the Niners converted 5-of-9 third downs. McCaffrey was responsible for two of the conversions. On first down, McCaffrey touched the ball 16 times and averaged 5.6 yards, setting up manageable and ideal play-action situations for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
To that point, it’s no coincidence Garoppolo enjoyed the most efficient day of his season, completing 21-of-25 passes for 235 yards (9.4 YPA) and two touchdowns with zero turnovers. This despite being without All-Pro receiver Deebo Samuel, who missed the game with a hamstring injury.
Entering their bye, the 49ers have time to further integrate McCaffrey into the offense. Head coach Kyle Shanahan desperately wanted to bring the Stanford product back to the Bay Area, knowing his scheme combined with an elite talent would be a devastating combination.
So far, it seems Shanahan is correct.
Coming out of its break, San Francisco hosts the Los Angeles Chargers, a team allowing a league-worst 5.7 yards per carry. Without edge rusher Joey Bosa, the Chargers are especially susceptible up front. Expect McCaffrey to run wild while creating advantageous matchups in space against the Chargers’ poor linebackers.
At 4-4, the 49ers are trying to climb the NFC playoff picture. Ultimately, getting healthy is the main key — San Francisco is currently without defensive linemen Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and Samuel. But beyond health, it’ll be getting McCaffrey to mesh further with his offensive line while providing Garoppolo with the most dynamic check-down option in the sport.
With his extraordinary all-around game, McCaffrey would have dominated in any NFL time period.
In this one? The Niners have the ultimate weapon, and he won them the game on Sunday.
Top 10 breakout performances in 2022
1. Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia Eagles – 2,102 total yards, 16 TDs, 7-0 start
2. Geno Smith, QB, Seattle Seahawks – 1,924 passing yards, 13 TDs
3. Alex Highsmith, EDGE, Pittsburgh Steelers – 6.5 sacks
4. Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints – 547 receiving yards, 2 TDs
5. Breece Hall, RB, New York Jets – 681 total yards, 5 TDs
6. Tariq Wooten, CB, Seattle Seahawks – 4 INTs
7. Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, New England Patriots – 558 rushing yards, 4 TDs
8. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins – 1,678 passing yards, 12 TDs
9. Dorance Armstrong, DE, Dallas Cowboys – 5 sacks
10. Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston Texans – 539 rushing yards, 3 TDs
“I’m still waiting on [general manager] Steve Keim to call me. Still haven’t talked to him.”
– Minnesota Vikings corner Patrick Peterson on his departure in ’21 from Arizona
In Feb. 2021, FanSided first reported the Arizona Cardinals and Peterson would part ways in free agency. One month later, Peterson signed with the Vikings. While he’s no longer an All-Pro player, he’s still a quality one. On Sunday, he helped Minnesota get to 6-1 with a 34-26 win over his old team.
Peterson, still salty about how he left the desert, must feel vindicated. The Cardinals are 3-5 and struggling to remain relevant, while the Vikings have a healthy lead in the NFC North.
The Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers are the only three teams to never have a running back earn the rushing title in the AFL or NFL.
Info learned this week
1. Packers simply don’t have weapons to beat quality teams
Romeo Doubs can’t be the top weapon on a championship team.
This is the problem for the Green Bay Packers, who fell 27-17 to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night. Doubs, a fine rookie out of Nevada, led Green Bay with 62 receiving yards.
For a team with annual designs on a title, Doubs should be a role player, not a primary target.
Beyond Doubs, no other wide receiver had more than a single reception against Buffalo. The Packers ran effectively with 208 rushing yards on 6.7 yards per carry, but when faced with passing downs, they had no answer. Before two window-dressing drives in the fourth quarter, quarterback Aaron Rodgers had thrown for 74 yards.
It seems many pundits continue to wait for Green Bay to get rolling. But without major upgrades on the perimeter, the Packers’ only way to beat a decent team will be Aaron Jones running, the defense playing quality football and the special teams not being a negative factor.
So far, that’s been a tough recipe for Green Bay to find.
2. Seahawks starting to marry defense to Geno Smith surprise start
Earlier this season, the Seattle Seahawks were winning despite their defense. Now, they’re winning with ample help from it.
After allowing 130 points over their first five contests, the Seahawks have tightened, giving up 18.3 points per game over the last three tilts — all victories. The result is Seattle leading the NFC West at 5-3, and with a schedule which suggests double-digit wins aren’t out of the question.
On Sunday, the Seahawks beat the New York Giants by a 27-13 count, allowing only 225 total yards on 3.5 yards per play. Daniel Jones could do little, throwing for 176 yards on 31 attempts.
The story all year in Seattle has been the unexpected play of Geno Smith, and rightfully so. But if the defense can continue its ascension, the real story is how a team nobody believed in this summer is suddenly dangerous across the roster.
3. Trevor Lawrence needs to be better at this stage of development
Context matters in life. Same for football. Trevor Lawrence essentially didn’t have a rookie season thanks to Urban Meyer masquerading as a head coach. Now, though, the excuses stop.
In a pseudo AFC elimination game, the Denver Broncos beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 21-17, largely because Lawrence threw two horrific interceptions. He also got flagged for intentional grounding before halftime, taking away a field goal opportunity.
The first interception was his worst choice. Leading 7-0 with 1st and Goal at Denver’s 1-yard line, Lawrence rolled right and threw at Broncos’ Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons. Two drives later, Lawrence was flagged for grounding. An incompletion gives Jacksonville a 56-yard field goal attempt before halftime.
Then, trailing 21-17 with 1:42 remaining and two timeouts, Lawrence forced a pass outside to receiver Christian Kirk. However, Broncos corner K’Wuan Williams had inside leverage and essentially ended the game with a theft.
At 2-6, the Jaguars are finished. Lawrence isn’t the sole reason, but he’s certainly one of them.
4. Raiders need more from their stars to get into playoff chase
To use Vegas lingo, the Raiders now need an inside straight to make the playoffs.
Taking on the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome, the Raiders could have won a third game in their last four. Instead, Las Vegas was blanked 24-0, failing to reach midfield until two minutes remained in the fourth quarter.
While there are myriad takeaways from Sunday’s snoozer, the biggest has been a problem all year. The Raiders need more from the top-tier talent.
This offseason, Las Vegas either acquired or extended edge rushers Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones, receivers Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow, tight end Darren Waller and quarterback Derek Carr. Those six are the pillars moving forward.
Yet through seven games, here are the stat lines for each:
Carr: 1,621 passing yards, 6.8 YPA, 9 TDs, 5 INTsAdams: 38 receptions, 512 yards, 5 TDsRenfrow: 18 receptions, 166 yards, 0 TDsWaller: 16 receptions, 175 yards, 1 TD
Jones: 15 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 TFLCrosby: 42 tackles, 6 sacks, 12 TFL
Save for Crosby, none of this is good enough.
Adams is on pace for 1,243 yards but on a massive 165 targets. That equates to 7.4 yards per target, which last year would have ranked T-80th alongside with Kadarius Toney (more on him below), Nico Collins, Noah Fant and Nelson Agholor.
Waller and Renfrow have missed a combined four games, but even when healthy, Renfrow hasn’t posted any game with 60 yards, while Waller has eclipsed that threshold once. Then there’s Carr, who is pacing for 3,936 passing yards despite fantastic talent around him.
If the Raiders are going to figure things out, it starts with five of their six stars playing much better.
5. Bengals try to keep offense rolling without Ja’Marr Chase
On Monday night, the Cincinnati Bengals’ biggest challenge may not be the Cleveland Browns, but adjusting without star receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
Without Chase for 4-6 weeks due to a hip injury, head coach Zac Taylor needs to scheme more often for Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, despite both getting increased attention from opposing defensive coordinators.
Over the past two weeks, Chase notched 15 catches on 21 targets for 262 yards and four touchdowns. Without Chase totaling at least 80 receiving yards this season, Cincinnati is 1-2. The first test comes against 2-5 Cleveland, with the Browns knowing another loss all but ends playoff dreams.
While Monday is a big game for both sides, it could be indicative of Cincinnati’s gameplans for the next month while Chase recovers.
Looking at the NFC playoff picture, you might notice something. Yes, the chaos. Yes, the unpredictable nature. But look harder.
Those quarterbacks you see? Yeah, they’re newcomers to this sort of thing.
With every NFC team spoken for through eight weeks, these are the quarterbacks who are currently in the playoff picture, listed by postseason starts and wins:
Jalen Hurts: 1/0Kirk Cousins: 3/1Geno Smith: 0/0Marcus Mariota: 2/1Dak Prescott: 4/1Daniel Jones: 0/0Jimmy Garoppolo: 6/4
GOING DEEP: Do Vikings have the look of an NFC contender?
When Garoppolo has more playoff wins than anybody else in the field, you know it’s a green group.
Of course, things can change. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford are all champions and on the periphery of the playoff race.
But as things stand the NFC could come down to which signal-caller handles pressure the best.
Inside the league
On Thursday, the Kansas City Chiefs gambled on Kadarius Toney.
Kansas City general manager Brett Veach sent a compensatory third and sixth-round pick to the Giants for their 2021 first-round choice, a receiver with talent but more questions than answers halfway through his second season.
On the surface, it’s a smart trade for both sides. The Giants have a new regime with no ties to Toney. First-year general manager Joe Schoen decided to move off a player he doesn’t believe in while adding picks which could help fill out New York’s roster, or selections Schoen can use to move up in pursuit of a quarterback come next April.
For the Chiefs, the thought process is clear.
Kansas City had more draft picks (12) than projected open roster spots in 2023. The Chiefs also have a trio of receivers becoming free agents in Mecole Hardman, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Justin Watson. With the wideout market exploding last offseason, Kansas City is getting an intriguing talent for $4.4 million over the next two seasons, along with a fifth-year option. This year, expect Toney to slowly be worked into the offense before getting more run in ’23.
Both New York and Kansas City shuffled assets to better fit their situations. Well done by both.
BetSided’s best bet for Week 9
Seahawks +3 at Cardinals
There isn’t a better opening line on the board than the Seattle Seahawks getting three points against Kliff Kingbury’s squad in Week 9.
Seattle has been terrific against the spread this season, and Geno Smith has rejuvenated a team post-Russell Wilson. Seattle already beat Arizona 19-9 at home this season, and Kingsbury’s Cardinals have not been great at home, especially as favorites under his watch.
Since 2019, Arizona is just 5-11 ATS as a home favorite. Don’t be shocked if it loses this game outright. Seattle plus the points is a must bet in Week 9.
– Peter Dewey
Few quarterbacks are more historically underrated than Dan Fouts. And in Fouts’ career, no span was more impressive — and ultimately painful — than 1979-81.
In each of those seasons, Fouts set the NFL’s single-season passing yardage record and yet ended the campaign in heartbreak.
In ’79, Fouts threw for 4,082 yards and his San Diego Chargers entered the AFC playoffs as the top seed. However, Fouts threw five interceptions against a horribly beat-up Houston Oilers team, losing 17-14.
The following year, Fouts totaled 4,715 passing yards and once again, San Diego had home-field advantage. This time, the Chargers advanced to the AFC Championship Game but lost 34-27 to the Raiders, where Fouts completed less than half his attempts while tossing two picks.
In ’81, Fouts amassed 4,802 yards and despite being the third seed, reached another AFC title game after winning the Epic in Miami one week earlier. However, after playing in the exhaustive heat of South Florida, the Chargers then played in the Freezer Bowl against the Bengals, facing a wind chill of -59 degrees. In brutal conditions, San Diego managed seven points in defeat.
Last Sunday, I wrote a piece about how the Buccaneers don’t have an easy fix. Things only got worse four nights later.
In their 27-22 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Bucs lost All-Pro edge rusher Shaq Barrett for the year with a torn Achilles. The defense, which in the season’s first three weeks allowed only 9.0 points per game, has surrendered 24.8 over the past five, going 1-4 during that stretch.
The problems are many, but right now, let’s focus on the run.
Offensively, Tampa Bay ranks dead last with 3.0 yards per carry. Defensively, the Buccaneers are permitting 4.8 YPC, tied for 24th in the NFL. This figure has been ballooning in recent weeks. Head coach Todd Bowles watched Kansas City run for 189 yards — while the Bucs ran for three — before seeing the Falcons, Panthers and Ravens account for 151, 173 and 231 rushing yards respectively.
The national focus will be on Brady and the passing game being janky, but if Tampa Bay can’t stop the run or generate any short down-and-distances, nothing will get better.