While the Bengals have some talented linebackers, pass coverage is not their strong suit.
Enter Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey is a talented rusher, but what sets him apart is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make people miss in space. The Bengals enter their Week 3 game with the Carolina Panthers with a record of 2-0. If they want to have any chance of keeping their winning streak alive, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin must figure out how to contain McCaffrey.
After releasing into the flat at the top of the screen, McCaffrey adjusts well to the ball throw which is thrown behind him. He then accelerates outrunning the defender pursuing him from the inside and beating the outside defender to the edge.
McCaffrey’s ability to get going in a hurry means that he can turn a short pass into a big play. Here, he catches a short pass and converts it into a first down. The Bengals must prevent him from turning short passes into drive extending plays.
This is where McCaffrey is dangerous if you don't rally to the ball pic.twitter.com/aBWHPcWNk6— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 18, 2018
Not only is McCaffrey’s quickness off the charts, but he has incredible agility. This play is similar to the one above. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton throws a short pass to McCaffrey in the flat.
Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith approaches McCaffrey and breaks down to make the tackle, but McCaffrey instead makes Smith look silly. He jukes to the inside, leaving Smith in a cloud of his dust, then cuts back to the outside running away from pursuit.
In order to contain McCaffrey, the Bengals will need to have multiple players break on the ball and funnel him into a confined space.
When McCaffrey catches a ball in the flat, he at least has the sideline to contain him. In the middle of the field, he is even more difficult to contain. Routes like this gave the Bengals problems in the past (see Nyheim Hines running this route in Week 1 here).
When McCaffrey catches the ball in the middle of the field, it is even more important for the Bengals to get multiple people to the ball and contain him.
The Panthers will also use screens to get the ball to McCaffrey in space with some blockers in front of him. This provides them with an even greater opportunity for McCaffrey to make a big play.
In the clip below, McCaffrey catches the ball and quickly cuts off the right guard who has released out in front of him. This gets him moving up field more quickly, rather than having to beat the first defender to the edge or make a move on him.
The Panthers will also line McCaffrey up at receiver. From this position, he is capable of catching short passes and making them into short gains just as he does from the backfield, but he is also skilled route-runner who can impact the game as a slot receiver.
Here, they throw him the ball on a quick screen. If he could get some better blocking in front of him, this could have been a very good play.
If the WR didn't whiff on the block they may have had something here pic.twitter.com/D2BheuTBAt— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 18, 2018
McCaffrey will be a big challenge to this linebacker group and the defense on a whole. His skill set fits perfectly into the weakest aspect of the Bengals defensive.
If the Bengals can find a way to contain him, it will speak volumes to about their defensive preparation and the ability of the linebacker group.