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Top 10 most impressive performances from 22’, No. 2: Christian McCaffrey @ the Rams

McCaffrey’s performance against the Rams made you go, “Oh, this guy will be tremendous.”

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Just over ten days after arriving in the Bay Area, Christian McCaffrey delivered a performance that 49ers fans will remember for a long time.

With San Francisco sitting at 3-3 on the heels of a double-digit loss in Atlanta, the front office made a bold move to acquire the All-Pro running back. Instantly he became a spark plug for an offense that was in dire need of being rejuvenated.

Before his arrival, the 49ers averaged 20.3 points per game with an average of 340.1 total yards per game. In the 11 regular season games with McCaffrey, that jumped to 29.8 points per game, with a total yard average of 379.5 yards per game.

The impact he had on this football team was undeniable, and it was all kick-started with a generational performance that immediately alleviated any concerns that may have existed about the capital the 49ers parted with to attain his services.

The 49ers headed to Los Angeles in Week 8 in desperate need of a win. A week after losing to the eventual Super Bowl champions, they would have to find a way to come out victorious against the reigning Super Bowl champions.

While the final score doesn’t adequately reflect it, this was a game where the 49ers had to scratch and claw, digging deep for a win that laid the foundation for a 13-game winning streak.

None of it would have been possible without McCaffrey and the box score-busting performance he put together on this day. He had a total of 183 yards and three touchdowns in this game. Three touchdowns in any NFL game are worth celebrating, but what McCaffrey did on this Sunday afternoon in Southern California was historical.

He became the fourth NFL player since the 1970 merger to record a touchdown pass, reception, and rushing touchdown within the same game.

The trifecta of touchdowns is the main attraction, but before we dive into those, I wanted to highlight some of the plays that may have gotten overshadowed. Whether it was moving the chains on a crucial third down conversion or jump-starting a drive with an explosive play in the run game, a handful of plays deserve their share of recognition.

Let’s start with his ability to create chunk plays as a receiving option. What sets McCaffrey apart from so many other elite backs in this league is how he can be used as a weapon in the passing game. He is an incredible route runner with dependable hands and a rare ability to create after the catch.

In this game, McCaffrey caught eight passes for 55 yards and one touchdown, with five of those eight receptions going for a first down. That number is even more incredible when you consider that his average depth of target was just 0.7 yards past the line of scrimmage.

Here is a great example of that on a 3rd & 7. McCaffrey appears to be running a predetermined choice route toward the sideline. The change of direction and ability to make defenders miss is on full display, but the instincts shine on this play.

While McCaffrey is breaking towards the sideline, Rams safety Taylor Rapp darts for the outside shoulder of McCaffrey, presumably to cut off where the momentum appeared to be taking him towards the numbers.

McCaffrey can feel this, stop on a dime and instead turn back towards the middle of the field, where he made multiple Rams defenders miss before racking up a 9-yard gain that moved the chains and kept the drive alive:

That conversion kept the chains moving on what would ultimately become the 49ers first scoring drive, capped off by a play that will be highlighted later in this article.

Here is another example of him creating after the catch. He is running a ‘Check Over’ route out of the backfield but does a fantastic job of vacating the open space, which allows him a clear path up field to rack up 14-yards en route to another first down:

Even on the stuff that may appear simple, the result had a major impact on the outcome of this game. On this 2nd & 6 from the SF 45-yard line, the 49ers dial up a play-action concept with mirrored widen curl routes. Garoppolo opts for the throw in the flat to McCaffrey, whose angle towards the sideline creates enough separation from Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner to pick up 11 yards and another first down:

He also generated these chunk plays in the running game, totaling five first downs on the 18 carries he logged. On 1st & 10 from the LA 22-yard line, he picks up 14 yards on ‘Power load,’ highlighting his vision as he navigates through the hole created by the pulling Aaron Banks:

On the first play of the second half, he picks up 25-yards on ‘sift zone’ and inside run to the weak side, with Ross Dwelley serving as the “sift” blocker responsible for clearing out the unblocked man on the end of the line of scrimmage:

Now it’s time for what is arguably the defining play of the 49ers 2022 season. With the 49ers trailing 7-0, they faced a 2nd & 8 from the Rams 34-yard-line. As they broke the huddle, I’m not sure anyone watching this game was prepared for what would come next.

After the snap, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hit McCaffrey in the flat to his right, which at a moment’s glance appeared no different from some of the plays highlighted above in this article. However, this time, an added wrinkle caught everyone, especially the Rams’ defense, by complete and utter surprise.

Instead of turning up field to dodge Rams defenders, McCaffrey slammed on the brakes and planted his feet in a manner that could only suggest one thing was about to happen. There was no way that Kyle Shanahan and his staff would have a skill position player that only had one full week of practice with the team unloading a deep ball on a double pass, right?

You better believe they did. With Brandon Aiyuk leaking behind the Rams’ defense undetected, McCaffrey fired the ball on a rope 35 yards in the air, hitting the 49ers’ wide receiver in stride for the teams’ first points in this game:

It tied the game in this must-win affair and gave a jolt to an offense that had badly needed some catalyst to get them going. It came when they desperately needed it, which would be the theme for another touchdown McCaffrey recorded in this game.

Late in the third quarter, the 49ers trailed 14-10, facing a key third down in the red zone. They could not afford to settle for a field goal here. They had to find a way to get the ball in the end zone and seize the momentum heading into the fourth quarter.

With the pressure starting to get home, Garoppolo moves to his right before firing a ball toward the back right pylon in the end zone. McCaffrey goes airborne to make an incredible leaping catch, landing with both feet in bounds to give the 49ers a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game:

Following McCaffrey’s remarkable touchdown grab, the 49ers’ defense immediately forced a three-and-out, giving their offense the ball back with a chance to land a decisive blow. Holding the ball and the lead in the fourth quarter, the 49ers’ offense marched downfield, with their scoring drive being capped off by two rushing attempts by McCaffrey.

The first came on 1st & 10 from the Rams’ 25-yard line. They dial up a ‘slice’ zone, an inside run designed to attack the weak side. McCaffrey takes it 24-yards up field before being brought down just shy of the goal line:

Shanahan returned to a McCaffrey run on the next play, once again leaning on the split flow zone they had succeeded with earlier. Both tight ends are going to execute sift blocks going in opposite directions, and McCaffrey punches it across the goal line to put the 49ers in firm control of this game for good:

These were McCaffrey’s final statistics from this game:

98 rushing yards

55 receiving yards

34 passing yards

11 first downs

1 rushing touchdown

1 receiving touchdown

1 passing touchdown

A special performance that is sure to be talked about for years to come.

Here is the full list of the countdown so far, with one final spot remaining at the top:

#10 - Brandon Aiyuk @ Atlanta

#9 - Charvarius Ward @ Carolina

#8 - Brock Purdy vs Tampa Bay

#7 - Talanoa Hufanga @ Chicago

#6 - George Kittle vs Washington

#5 - Charles Omenihu vs Seattle

#4 - Deebo Samuel vs Los Angeles Rams

#3 - Fred Warner vs Dallas

#2 - Christian McCaffrey @ Los Angeles Rams

#1 - Coming soon...