It’s finally time for football after one of the weirdest offseasons we have seen with the pandemic. The Raiders are coming in with high expectations in year three of a rebuild, and fans are thinking playoffs or bust. That journey begins in North Carolina with the Raiders facing the Carolina Panthers in Week 1.
The Panthers are a completely new regime after moving on from long time head coach Ron Rivera in 2019. They added one of the hottest names in coaching by hiring Matt Rhule, who led the Baylor Bears from last place to play in the Big 12 championship game.
He brings an innovative philosophy to football with his college defensive coordinator Phil Snow following him to the next level and hiring the leader of the best passing offense we have seen in college football, Joe Brady.
While there is a new coaching staff for the Panthers, most of the offense is returning with Teddy Bridgewater as the new signal-caller. DJ Moore is still the number one receiver and free-agent signing Robby Anderson gives them a deep threat they were missing the year before. But at the end of the day, this team evolves their elite running back, Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey has proved he was worth the first-round pick in 2017. He has accumulated 2,920 yards on the ground and 2,523 yards receiving along with 39 total touchdowns in his first three seasons. He is the complete modern-day running back and has been the bell cow for this offense and will be target No. 1 for the Raiders defense.
How do you slow down one of the best running backs in the game? Let’s take a look at a few details that can help slow down the running back.
Controlling the Power Run Game
One thing McCaffrey is a master at is executing the power run game. His vision, decisiveness, and patience help him let blocks develop and use his 4.4 speed to burst through holes at top acceleration to help gash the defense.
This play against Tennessee, the Panthers will be running Power O, which is a staple in power run games. McCaffrey does a great job of being patient and letting the pulling guard get to the second level and seal off the linebacker. He then accelerates through the hole for a long touchdown.
Brady brings the power run game with him from LSU. The tigers primarily stuck to power concepts running things that Christian McCaffrey is comfortable with executing.
An example below is a creative power concept with the tight end pulling up through the A gap to help spark a considerable gain for the LSU offense.
The Raiders need to win upfront because outside of designed holes, McCaffrey isn’t a world-beater. He was only 19th in PFF’s elusive rating and his 22nd in yards after contact at 2.62, which is average for his prowess.
The Raiders specialize in stopping the run with Hankins inside at the 1-technique and Maxx Crosby, who finished second among all edge rushers in ESPN’s new run block win rate metric. The Panthers are nicked up on their offensive line with Dennis Daley missing practices at the guard position.
McCaffrey can, for sure, be contained if the Raiders can beat blocks and allow the linebackers to fill in gaps and make tackles on the football. The Panthers are going to do everything they can to get their bell cow carries, but I believe the Raiders will be up for the challenge.
Tackling in Open Space
Another thing Joe Brady brings with him from college is throwing the ball to running backs with designed plays. He was probably foaming at the mouth when he saw a chance to work with McCaffrey and all the ways he could get him the football. That’s why the Raiders must be able to tackle in space.
I mentioned earlier about McCaffrey’s elusive rating, but in the passing game, he’s a whole different animal. He leads all running backs in avoided tackles after the catch with 26 (according to PFF) and which helped him become the first 1,000-yard back in rushing and receiving since Marshall Faulk.
Brady loved to use angle routes or the Texas route to get players open in space out of the backfield. The example below shows how tough it can be for linebackers to guard this route without them being flat-footed when the running back comes out of the backfield. With someone as quick as McCaffrey, it can become a challenging task for any linebacker.
Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady loved to get CEH the ball in space. Had plenty of designs to get the RB’s with one on ones with LB’s
He will be looking to do the same thing on Sunday with CMC. Angle routes like this are plays the Raiders have to be prepared for. pic.twitter.com/Oos9WKH3Bl
— Marc John (@TheMarcJohnNFL) September 9, 2020
This is part of the reason the Raiders signed Cory Littleton for these types of matchups. Last season Littleton had 14 tackles and held McCaffrey to 19 total yards on five targets, according to Pro Football Focus. He can be a huge key to helping contain the pass-catching running back and help lead the Raiders to victory.
- With the Raiders going with two starting rookie wide receivers, expect to see 12 personnel early and often with Waller lined up at the X position. With the Panthers weakness at linebacker, this should help favorable matchups for the budding superstar tight end.
- Expect a heavy dose of Josh Jacobs as the Raiders should handle a young defensive line. I expect a big game from Jacobs as he bullies his way through the Panthers’ weak linebacker corps.