Getting More from Christian McCaffrey and Davante Adams
NFL Week 4 - Christian McCaffrey has 50 carries this season. Of those carries, 29 have gone between the tackles.
Great work, Ben McAdoo and Matt Rhule! When we think of McCaffrey, all of us automatically think, "traditional between-the-tackles punch press." The Carolina Panthers offense is sure to be optimized by McCaffrey plunging into the line on 60% of his rushes!
Walkthrough has been attracting lots of new readers these days, so let's clarify: that's sarcasm.
McCaffrey, who missed practice this week with a quad injury, is second in the NFL in carries marked as "left inside," "middle," or "right inside" by Sports Info Solutions. Jonathan Taylor leads the NFL with 37 such rushes. Taylor has 61 total carries, so he is plunging into the line on 60.6% of his rushes, often inside zone concepts.
Taylor weighs 20 more pounds than McCaffrey. Also, the Indianapolis Colts offense is—let's be nice—still ironing out the kinks entering Week 4. It's not a model of efficiency right now.
McCaffrey is averaging 5.4 yards per rush between the tackles, but that's because of one 49-yard run against the Giants. Take it away and his average drops to 3.9; still not terrible, but there are better ways to get 3.9 yards than exposing CMC to 10 wallops up the middle per game.
Meanwhile, McCaffery has run to the outside just five times this season. Because, hey, he's not the type of elusive playmaker who operates well in space. (Also sarcasm.)
Nick Chubb leads all running backs with 23 carries to the outside. Derrick Henry—DERRICK HENRY—is second among non-quarterbacks with 21. McCaffrey has as many outside runs as Tyler Allgeier, Justice Hill, Joshua Kelly, and, er, Mac Jones.
Folks, McAdoo and Rhule may not know how to use Christian McCaffrey properly.
What about the passing game, you say? McCaffrey has just 10 receptions on 14 targets for 57 yards, but perhaps McArhule have whipped up all sorts of devilry for their dual-threat running back that just hasn't quite paid off yet. For example, CMC is getting lots of work from the slot, right?
Nope. McCaffrey has two catches for 10 yards on two targets from the slot. Based on my rewatch of the Saints game, he did not line up in the slot once in Week 3.
Are the Panthers splitting him wide? Nope. Zero targets. No snaps that I saw.
They must be using motion, sliding McCaffrey all over the formation to get him mismatched against linebackers, right? Nope: one target when in motion, for a loss of 5.
Well, surely they are giving McCaffrey chances to operate down the field! Nope: one target of 5 or more air yards, incomplete.
McCaffrey has caught five screen passes on five targets. Three targets and one catch (that 5-yard loss) came on "swing" passes in the Sports Info Solutions database. Three targets and two catches came in the flats. You get the idea; the McCaffrey passing game is downright rudimentary.
McCaffrey's simplistic, suboptimal usage pattern is almost certainly McAdoo's doing; Rhule and his past coordinators had creative plans for McCaffrey when he was available to them. It's also almost comically silly. Think about it. Baker Mayfield had a truncated offseason. He doesn't have a full handle on the playbook or well-tuned timing with his receivers, and it shows. So how would you manufacture offense in those situations? Emphasizing CMC, of course. And how would you do so? Probably by motioning McCaffrey all over the formation, tossing him the ball on quick sweeps, having him run option routes from the slots, and basically telling Baker, "Just find Christian and dump it off to him."
If all you have seen of the Panthers are the highlights, you may not realize how weak their offense is: 25th in DVOA, 31st in the first quarter. Their DVOA rises to second in the fourth quarter, but that's largely because their three biggest plays—McCaffrey's 49-yard run, a Mayfield bomb to Robbie Anderson, Laviska Shenualt's catch-and-run to ice the Saints win—are all lumped in a small fourth-quarter sample. The Panthers have a bad offense masked by the fact that they have played some opponents whose offenses are just as bad or worse.
Fantasy gamers may not care very much how McCaffrey gets the ball as long as he gets it a lot. But c'mon: this isn't how he's supposed to be used, and it may already be taking its toll on a 205-pound all-purpose guy with a long injury history. And if the Panthers can't move the ball more consistently, there will be lots of 15-for-50 rushing, 5-for-30 receiving afternoons in McCaffrey's future. If he manages to stay on the field.
McCaffrey should be part of the solution. But if McAdoo and Rhule keep treating him like a fullback, it'll be a problem for both the Panthers and folks who made McCaffrey RB1 in fantasy.
The Davante Adams Riddle
Davante Adams has caught just seven passes for 48 yards in his last two games after going 10-141-1 in the season opener. Las Vegas fans have noticed. The Raiders faction of my Twitter timeline is full of musings like, "Why isn't Derek Carr throwing to Adams?"; "Why isn't Josh McDaniels featuring Adams?"; and "We're Raiders fans, shouldn't we be used to this sort of thing by now?"
Walkthrough does not have answers to any of those questions. But we do have data. Adams ranks 51st in DYAR right now; his -1 DYAR indicates that he's producing like a replacement-level receiver. His 50% catch rate—17 catches on 34 targets—is tied with CeeDee Lamb for the second-worst rate among receivers with 20-plus targets. Only Brandin Cooks is below them.
Adams' average depth of catch (per Sports Info Solutions, the source for all non-FO stats) is just 6.6 yards, 29th in the NFL. A low depth-of-catch figure can indicate a dink-and-dunk target, or it can illustrate a team's "feed the superstar the ball" strategy. Cooper Kupp's depth of catch is currently 5.8 yards; Ja'Marr Chase is at 5.9 (not including last night's game against Miami). The Rams and Bengals are feeding Kupp and Chase the ball on shorter routes to get their offenses moving. The difference is that Kupp and Chase are catching 80% and 60% of their targets to Adams' 50%. Also, no one should be holding the Bengals offense up as an exemplar of anything through three games.
Sports Info Solutions also has a little metric called On-Target Catch Rate, which measures the number of catchable passes that the receiver caught. Adams' rate is 100%: no drops, no contested catches that went the other way. If Carr gets the ball anywhere near him, Adams catches it.
Carr just isn't throwing the ball to Adams, however, as this breakdown illustrates. And when he does throw it, the pass is often off-target: friend-of-Walkthrough Doug Farrar noted on Twitter that Carr is just 1-of-6 when targeting Adams 20-plus yards downfield.
This is a good time to take a deep breath and restack the situation. Carr-to-Adams worked great in Week 1. They're BFFs. Carr was an effective deep passer last year to guys such as Zay Jones. Adams is getting open, getting featured in the offense (10 targets last week) and getting the ball in the red zone (one touchdown per week). Adams' production will almost certainly snap back. Walkthrough isn't recommending any Week 4 Adams props because: a) the Broncos rank third in the NFL at stopping No. 1 wide receivers; and b) there weren't many posted yet at our favorite sites at press time. But we're still bullish on Adams moving forward.
We're also bullish on the Raiders snapping back on offense once McDaniels, Carr, Adams, Darren Waller, and Hunter Renfrow find the same page. The problem right now is that the sportsbooks agree: the Raiders were 2.5-point favorites against the Broncos at press time.
We're not touching that "which scuffling offense figures things out first?" action. But eventually, both scuffling offenses are likely to get better.
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Jameis Winston's First-Half Blues
Here are Jameis Winston's passing breakdowns by quarter through three games:
|Jameis Winston by Quarter, 2022|
The Saints offense goes from 26th to 30th to 26th to third in DVOA from the first quarter to the fourth. Much of Winston's fourth-quarter production comes on a remarkable 11 passing plays of 20-plus yards. But as always there are interceptions to consider—one of them a Hail Mary, but the others comeback killers.
Walkthrough has no idea what to make of this, except that it further confirms our Theoretical Jameis hypothesis: Winston's reputation as a still-viable starter comes from cutting and pasting together the times when he looks like a true franchise quarterback and hand-waving away the other 75% of his playing time.
None of this may matter on Sunday morning against the Vikings. Winston did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday. Both Winston and Dennis Allen downplayed the situation, but Allen also made sure Taysom Hill got some snaps behind Andy Dalton. Remember when Taysom Hill wasn't going to play quarterback anymore? LOL. Any-who, Michael Thomas didn't practice on Wednesday or Thursday either. It's safe to assume that the Saints offense isn't going to suddenly get better this week.
Walkthrough grabbed Vikings (-3) while Winston's status was still cloudy. We don't expect the line to move too much when Taysom is announced as the starter. Dalton! We mean Dalton. Taysom's just gonna get about half the snaps.
The Zach Wilson Attack is Back!
Are you excited for Zach Wilson's return to the New York Jets huddle? No? Had you forgotten all about Zach Wilson? That's OK. He's rather forgettable.
Wilson had some loose 'n' lumpy rookie performances at the start of the 2021 season. He then suffered a PCL injury. Mike White, Josh Johnson, and Joe Flacco replaced Wilson for four games, and it was quite a lifetime's journey of a month: the New York tabloids were so ginned up for a Wilson-White controversy that they needed cold showers after White's four-interception meltdown against the Bills.
Wilson returned for the final seven games of the season, and neither Robert Saleh nor Mike LaFleur had the stomach for any more excitement. LaFleur relaunched his offense in tutorial mode, and from Week 12 on, Wilson ranked:
- 30th among all starting quarterbacks in completion rate at 54.0% (minimum 100 attempts; Baker Mayfield and Mike Glennon were below him).
- 29th in yards per attempt at 5.8 (Ben Roethlisberger, Sam Darnold, Glennon).
- 31st in sack rate at 10.5% (Darnold).
- 32nd (last) in average throw depth at 6.3 yards per attempt.
You get the picture.
Wilson threw an interception on the fifth play of the Jets preseason. He tore a meniscus in his right knee when scrambling a little too thirstily on the very next drive. That brings us to now. Wilson returns to replace Flacco, who ranks a very Flacco-esque 25th in DVOA and DYAR and scratched out a comeback against the Browns.
The tabloids are taking their little purple pills in anticipation of a very, very sad little controversy if Wilson stumbles. And sometimes, the tabloids speak to us the way the point spread speaks to us. Wilson has produced almost nothing but poor play and injuries. Yes, it's still very early in his career, but it's not hard to smell instant dissatisfaction in the wind, especially in Jets country, where controversies often turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. And Saleh is on record: he reads the papers. A coach who "keeps receipts" is a coach who can get swept up in a drama.
Wilson will be short three left tackles for the foreseeable future: George Fant joined Duane Brown and Mekhi Becton on the IR. That leaves longtime backup Connor McDermott on the left side, with Connor McGovern on the right side, because the Jets love filling their roster with duplicates. The left tackle crisis will make the Jets offense even more conservative, which will play against Wilson's theoretical strength as a deep passer. Jets quarterback situations are rarely fair, but they are always Jets quarterback situations.
Walkthrough wants to buy into the "Jets have improved" conversation. So far, all we have seen are some scattered big plays against the Browns and lots of soup mix. We also want to root for Wilson, but we weren't that impressed with him at BYU, and the best thing for the Jets might be a quick resolution if he's just headed down the Darnold path.
Trevor Lawrence's Sideline Itch
One reason why Trevor Lawrence is off to such an impressive start is the fact that he is doing an exceptional job completing passes along the sidelines. Lawrence has completed a league-high 80% of his 23 passes marked "left" or "right" (outside the numbers, essentially) of 5 to 15 yards in air length in the Sports Info Solutions database.
Yes, that's a rather custom-finagled stat. It's tricky to tease this data to illustrate a point without Cooper Rush or somebody sample-sizing his way into the conversation. So let's come at this another way. On "out" routes in the SIS database, Lawrence is 16-of-18 for 127 yards. Only Kyler Murray has more completions and yards. Lawrence has other sideline completions listed as comebacks or curls. He has also gotten some production from short swing passes, but much of his sideline production comes on intermediate routes.
Lawrence's success along the short-to-intermediate sidelines forces opponents to defend the whole field. Some offenses get surprisingly little out of these segments of the field: 49ers quarterbacks completed just 30 passes in this range last year, and the Bears, Packers, 49ers, Rams, and Dolphins have all attempted 10 passes or less along the short-to-intermediate sidelines. Sideline passing efficiency isn't a must, but it's a delicious part of a well-nourished offense.
The Eagles appear well-suited to stop Lawrence from picking them apart at the edges because: a) Darius Slay and James Bradberry are playing well; and b) there are some defensive holdovers (such as Slay) from the Doug Pederson era. The Jaguars offense currently looks a lot like the Playoff Foles offense, complete with a smattering of RPO. The Eagles should be ready for that.
There may also be a little helium in the Jaguars' balloon after a Week 3 blowout which was fueled in large part by a pair of early turnovers deep in Chargers territory. The house isn't nibbling on the Jaguars just yet: they're +6.5 at Philly, which is way too close to our FO+ picks to play.
That said, Lawrence is certainly trending in the right direction, all of those crisp passes to the sideline are a very encouraging sign, and we expect the Jaguars to be a tough out all year long.