Before Week 9, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey was having a rough rookie season. Yes, he had a lot of catches, but they were for very few yards, and he couldn't get things going on the ground.
Last weekend, however, he had his best game yet, rushing for a career-high 66 yards and a touchdown. Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula has to get the versatile first-round pick going if the Panthers want to keep pace with the Saints in the NFC South.
So how can he do that? And how can four other highly rated rookies -- Mitchell Trubisky, O.J. Howard, Joe Mixon and Corey Davis -- be more involved during the season half of the season? Here's what I'm seeing on film for each, and how a few simple scheme adjustments can increase their impact:
McCaffrey had only averaged 2.4 yards per carry -- he had 117 yards on 49 carries -- before last Sunday's win. He was getting swallowed up in the hole on tape. I have to give Shula some credit, however, for his game plan against the Falcons, because we finally started to see a glimpse of what McCaffrey can do on the ground. Why? It was the diversity in the run game.
The Panthers got McCaffrey to the edge on power plays with the big boys out in front. That gave the rookie the opportunity to cut off the blocks with a quick burst up the field. They got him zone runs out of the shotgun. Those are important because Cam Newton can read the defensive end, and there is a natural cutback lane there. And I loved the triple-option scheme in the red zone that produced McCaffrey's first career rushing touchdown (see the example below). Dress it up with the tackle over, shift late and then get McCaffrey outside off the read as the pitch target. A walk-in score.