Christian McCaffrey’s value cannot be measured by a position. When No. 23 is on the field and lined up anywhere other than a traditional running back, you can guarantee there are four sets of eyes on him.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has used McCaffrey’s gravitational pull to his advantage. So when we talk about whether McCaffrey’s workload is too much — 42 carries through two games, when he’s sparingly coming off the field — it’s difficult to blame the coaching staff for not leaning on their best player, whether he has the ball or not.
Here’s an example of what it looks like when McCaffrey runs a route:
Brandon Aiyuk, the wideout behind McCaffrey, ended up picking up the first down.
What makes Shanahan such an effective play-caller is that he will milk a mismatch or a weakness of a defense the second he identifies one. So, we saw McCaffrey running underneath routes seemingly once a series. And why not, when this was the result:
Aiyuk can thank McCaffrey for another wide open reception that led to a first down.
It’s pick your poison with the 49ers. McCaffrey, who is averaging 6.4 yards per carry this season, may not seem like he’s having that much of an impact in the passing game if you look at the box score.
Six receptions for 36 yards may seem like pedestrian numbers, but the screenshots above tell a different story about how valuable McCaffrey is to an offense scoring 30 points a game.
Much has been made about Brock Purdy overthrowing Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, and Deebo Samuel. Shanahan and Brock acknowledged after the game that these are throws an NFL quarterback must make.
The throw to Jennings doesn’t bother me as much, as it was third down, Jauan was Brock’s third read, and he was trying to make a play. That doesn’t excuse Purdy for missing the throw, but when you watch the play, and where he missed, you can understand the result.
There’s no explanation for Purdy overshooting Aiyuk and Deebo. Both players ran incredible routes and won early enough where Purdy had plenty of room to throw an accurate ball.
In the video above, a minor coaching point for Aiyuk would be to “drive” out of his route for two to three strides before looking back. When you’re sprinting in one direction and looking backward, you’re naturally going to run slower.
Again, this is no way absolving Brock from the throw. He missed. Purdy left two touchdowns on the field. It didn’t cost the 49ers against a familiar foe in a comfortable environment, but that won’t always be true throughout this season.
Outstanding offensive line
Aaron Donald came close to sacking Purdy on a couple of occasions. But when “close” is the best that Donald can say he did on the afternoon, I’d say our line did an outstanding job.
Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris saw what T.J. Watt did to Colton McKivitz in Week 1 and put his best player over the 49ers right tackle on obvious passing downs, hoping to get the same result.
McKivitz held up for just long enough, and when he didn’t, Spencer Burford was there to save the day. That was the story for the Niners offensive line all game. They were attentive to where Donald was lined up, and went out of their way to double him and force someone else to win.
The run blocking was equally effective. Combine a strong rushing attack when your quarterback only gets hit twice and sacked once on 25 dropbacks, and that’s the recipe for 30 points.
In the video below, I review the 49ers offense in depth, talk about some of Shanahan’s schemes, and marvel at some of the blocking and plays in space both McCaffrey and Deebo make.
The Rams are a quality team. They’re playoff bound, and the 49ers outlasted them. This was an impressive performance for the Niners.