Panthers RB Christian McCaffery will be a handful for Cowboys in NFL Week 1


Despite the injuries to the Carolina Panthers’ offensive line, they remain a formidable opponent for the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1. They boast a strong, big-bodied receiver in Devin Funchess and a savvy, veteran tight end in Greg Olsen. Quarterback Cam Newton possesses unparalleled size and athleticism, presenting a stout challenge for Dallas’ up-and-coming defense.However, the greatest obstacle to a Cowboys’ victory is second-year running back Christian McCaffrey. His versatility and skillset in the passing game make him a lethal matchup for Sean Lee and his teammates.

Dallas is expected to play a lot of man coverage this season. That means fans should expect Lee and Jaylon Smith to matchup with the Stanford product one-on-one. Although both linebackers appear healthy and fast to start the season, Carolina’s speedy runner still has the advantage.

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Below are two simple, yet effective, concepts Norv Turner will use to scheme Christian McCaffrey open in the season opener.

Christian McCaffery and the Option Route

A favored concept that newly-hired offensive coordinator Norv Turner will continue to rely upon is the option route. This is a play where the Panthers’ running back approaches his defender head-on at a distance of five to seven yards from the line of scrimmage. He’ll then choose which direction to break based off the defender’s leverage and where the open space is on the field. The shifty McCaffrey creates separation with his quickness and agility, giving Newton an easy throw for a significant gain.

In the wildcard matchup at New Orleans last season, Carolina used the option route to close to within a single score. Late in the game and down 12, the Panthers were in desperate need of a big play. They called a 3-verticals concept with an option route from McCaffrey.

The Saints played a lot of man coverage last year and the alignment of McCaffrey in the backfield meant a linebacker would cover the former first-round pick. The play was designed to create space in the middle of the field and give the running back a two-way go against a slower linebacker. McCaffrey burned the linebacker with his route then showcased his fantastic acceleration to break through the third level of the defense.

Because New Orleans called a blitz with man coverage, the play was even more devastating as the other linebacker turned to cover Olsen from the inside slot position instead of lurking in the middle of the field. The result was a 56-yard touchdown.

From the end zone angle, Saints linebacker Craig Robertson, No. 52, found himself guessing and completely exposed by No. 22’s option route.

Even though the Cowboys’ defensive leader Lee excels in pass coverage, he and the rest of the linebackers will have a difficult time keeping up with Christian McCaffrey.

Can Cowboys limit Christian McCaffery on Under Routes?

The under route can be called versus man coverage but is also effective when facing zone. The following displays how the 5’11” runner exploits the soft parts of zone coverage.

Earlier in last season’s wildcard game, near the middle of the second quarter, Carolina motioned McCaffrey out wide. They ran a 4-verticals concept and had No. 22 break underneath the route stems of Olsen and Ed Dickson.

The Saints responded by dropping into a Cover 2 zone defense. Olsen’s route drew the attention of the middle linebacker who failed to see McCaffrey on his shallow crosser. As a result, he caught a five-yard pass and ran for an extra 12 yards.


Neither of these plays are complex. They have a straight-forward design and produce outstanding results because they get the ball to a dynamic player in space. This is the essence of the modern game. These concepts represent only a fraction of the plays the Panthers have in their arsenal specifically for McCaffrey.

There are running back screens, slants, and check downs to name a few. He also has the ability to catch passes downfield. And don’t forget about the running game. Carolina uses both zone and gap schemes in their ground attack. This 71-yard touchdown from Week 2 of the pre-season demonstrates the Stanford Cardinal’s play-making ability and the threat he poses to every opponent.

If Dallas wants leave Bank of America Stadium with a win, they must first stop McCaffrey. If they don’t, then Carolina will dictate the flow of the game and Jason Garrett and his team will fly home with an 0-1 record to start the season.


You can follow Allan on Twitter at @AllanUy22


*Animations derived from NFL Game Pass.