NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It hasn’t been an easy week in the film room for Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel while preparing for his team’s upcoming matchup with the Carolina Panthers (4-3).
That’s because Vrabel is trying to answer a question that none of the Panthers’ seven opponents to this point in the season have been able to figure out: how do you slow down RB Christian McCaffrey?
“It’s been, I would say, an agonizing and fun few days to watch just how dynamic of a player he is—his quickness, his toughness, his ability to make people miss in the open field, his ability to catch the football,” Vrabel said.
JUST HOW GOOD IS HE?
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The Titans (4-4) will have their hands full on defense with McCaffrey. The third-year Stanford product has been arguably the NFL’s most electrifying offensive player through the first half of the season, and just about any kind of stat backs that up.
Prefer traditional stats? McCaffrey’s 1,078 yards per scrimmage through Week 8 is the second-highest total in the league. The leader in that category, RB Dalvin Cook of the Vikings, has played one more game than McCaffrey. McCaffrey also has 10 total touchdowns.
Prefer more modern stats? McCaffrey is the highest-scoring player in standard NFL.com fantasy football leagues through eight weeks, despite already having had his bye week. OddsShark, a popular online sports betting service, currently lists McCaffrey with the third-best odds to win NFL MVP (+800).
“He’s the man,” said LB Jayon Brown, who faced McCaffrey in college while playing for UCLA. “He’s fast, he’s hard to tackle, he keeps his feet moving and he’s very quick. There aren’t many bad things you can say about him.”
THE FOCAL POINT
Keeping McCaffrey in check is a simple concept, but it’s one that will be difficult for the Titans to execute.
McCaffrey, through seven games, has accounted for 56% of the Panthers’ touches on offense and 46% of their total yards from scrimmage. So, the Titans know that plays will be designed to go to him a majority of the time.
But, because of McCaffrey’s talent, that knowledge can only help so much.
“You know he’s going to get it, you know he’s going to run it, you know they’re going to throw it to him, and he’s still able to be productive,” Vrabel said.
“When you get that many touches, I don’t care who the player is, I don’t know if you can necessarily stop somebody that gets the ball 26 times a game,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said.
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The Titans know that McCaffrey is going to rack up yards on Sunday due to the sheer volume that the Panthers give him. That doesn’t mean, though, that they can’t stop him from wrecking the game.
In order to do that, the Titans are preaching the importance of teamwork, especially when it comes to tackling.
“I haven’t seen anyone tackle him one-on-one yet, and I’ve watched pretty much every game,” Vaccaro said. “He’s one of those people where you can’t assume, ‘oh, my guy’s got him.'”
“We’ve been teaching that all year,” LB Rashaan Evans said. “The more guys you get to the ballcarrier, the better chance you have of getting that guy down.”
Swarming to the ball and using proper technique when tackling have been aspects of the game that the Titans defense has practiced since spring voluntary minicamps.
“Those are all things that we’ve been working on since April,” Vrabel said. “I do think that it’s improved. It’ll never be great, but good defenses are good tackling defenses.”
Cover image: Stan Szeto & Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today