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How Christian McCaffrey has changed the 49ers’ first-half offense

Kyle Shanahan is taking advantage of his newest weapon in more ways than one

Miami Dolphins v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The TV broadcast showed a graphic at the beginning of the Miami Dolphins game that said, “the first seven games of the year, the Niners threw the ball 55 percent of the time and ran it 45 percent of the time in the first half. But in the previous four games, the 49ers are throwing the ball on 64 percent of plays in the first half.

During today’s Gold Standard, Rob and Levin discussed why Kyle Shanahan has elected to throw the ball more early in games. Here’s Rob:

“Kyle has realized that the running game hasn’t gotten going the way he wanted it to. But he’s evolved, and I hope he sticks with it, even though it’s Brock Purdy because I think that’s the best path to victory.”

Take a look at Purdy’s throwing chart against the Dolphins:

Image courtesy of NextGenStats

Nineteen of his 37 attempts came within or at five yards of the line of scrimmage. Each of those passes could be viewed as an extension of the 49ers' running game. That’s not a slight to Purdy. He used the short and intermediate portions of the field, plus he even had a few attempts over 15 yards.

Here’s Levin’s response:

“He would rather get the screen to Deebo or the slant to somebody else and get three or four yards cheap and easy on a pass play than try to run it and get stuffed. Now you’re looking and 2nd & 10 and behind the 8-ball.

That’s what they’ve been doing. If you look at their first down passing, it’s not deep passes. It’s almost always under ten yards. But it’s a safe, reliable pass that has a very high chance of being caught. That then puts them in a favorable 2nd & 6 or less.”

Purdy’s average intended air yards was 5.3. His average completed air yards was 3.5, which was the fifth-lowest total in Week 13. Shanahan called the same passing concept on three consecutive plays. He knew what was needed to get out of Sunday with his scout team quarterback under center.

And that’s OK. Here’s Rob:

“Clearly, he wasn’t asking him to do much. But guess what? It worked! They got down the field when they needed to. They took a lot of time off the clock. They got field goals when they needed to and a couple of touchdowns too.

Pass it, Kyle. Pass it on first down. Maybe pass it on second down. Do not turtle up. Now is not the time to revert to ‘old Kyle.’ I want new, evolved, hip Kyle Shanahan on Sunday.”

What’s been the difference in these last four games? Christian McCaffrey. Shanahan is running his dropback passing game, and if nobody is open, the quarterback checks it down to a player averaging 8.8 yards per reception.

Shanahan uses CMC on screen passes, but we saw McCaffrey on a wheel route for a gain of 33 yards last week. He’s taking advantage of his newest weapon in every possible way.

You can listen to the rest of the episode below, including a preview of Tom Brady and the Bucs: