All-32: McCaffrey Set for Big Day Against Chargers
Welcome to All-32, a game-by-game preview of every matchup on the NFL slate each week. The goal is to provide a look at the most critical part of each game with a marriage of data and film study. As the season rolls along, the focus will narrow in on the specifics, but for this week, many of the featured players and units are big-picture projections for the teams in question.
If you're interested in our game picks, you can find them on this page.
Let's get to it. All times listed as Eastern.
Los Angeles Chargers at San Francisco 49ers—Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
Key Player: SF RB Christian McCaffrey
The Chargers defense is a paradise for opposing running backs. The scheme is designed to be lax on run defense in favor of stopping explosive passes, the defensive line still stinks despite the additions over the offseason, and there isn't a single starting NFL linebacker on the roster.
It's not just what the Chargers give up on the ground, though. Being the 31st-ranked run defense by DVOA is one thing, but they are just as bad at surrendering yards to running backs out of the backfield. The Chargers are 31st in DVOA on passes to running backs, faring better than only their division mates in Las Vegas. Drue Tranquill has done OK in zone coverage further down the field, but he doesn't have the range to keep up with quicker players out of the backfield. Kenneth Murray has the opposite affliction—a player with all the necessary range but none of the actual football skills for it to matter.
The last time we saw McCaffrey two weeks ago against the Rams, he was hoarding targets and making good use of them. McCaffrey caught all nine of his targets, many of which were checkdowns, for 62 yards, a touchdown, and five first downs. He was unrecoverable in the short area and has already proved to be the best checkdown option Jimmy Garoppolo has ever played with, unless you want to count Deebo Samuel's snaps at running back.
Up to 150 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown or two should be in play for McCaffrey. That's a high bar, but McCaffrey is more than capable of doing so with Kyle Shanahan's help against a defense completely unequipped to handle his skill set. If McCaffrey gets going at that clip, it's hard to imagine how the Chargers keep up in this game with their depleted offense against the 49ers' hellish defense.