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Film Room: Anthony McFarland is the Steelers new weapon X, Part 2: 508 yards in 8 days.

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A deeper look at the final three games of Anthony McFarland’s 2018 season.

Syracuse v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

In part 1 of this film room series on the Steelers 4th round pick Anthony McFarland Jr. we looked at the start of his college career, and saw on tape the tools and skill set he would showcase in back to back 200 yard rushing games.

It is important to note that Maryland’s incredible depth at RB was running thin by week 10 of 2018. Starter Ty Johnson would attempt to return against Indiana but only get 5 touches before being forced to end his season. His backup from 2017 was out, along with several other runners that had produced to this point. Maryland was down to McFarland and Tavon Fleet-Davis, one of their main receiving and rushing wing backs as reliable options at RB. That set the stage for an Anthony McFarland focused offense that would put up yards but ultimately fail to win a single game.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

This is how you take advantage of your offensive line clearing a big hole for you, you break some tackles and flip the field. McFarland hits the hole fast, and then gets low real quick to get through two defenders, here’s a zoomed in look at it.

His ability to get low quick and the balance coming out of his spin move are both impressive.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

The run game success has the defense focused on all the movement and pulls Matt Canada is throwing their way and they forget to cover Anthony McFarland on this route. A nice adjustment to an under thrown ball by McFarland for the 2-pt. conversion.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

This is the Matt Canada effect. Look at the alignment of the defense. Indiana is so worried about outside runs that the closest non-lineman to this inside run is 7 yards away at the snap. Credit McFarland for seeing the defender coming to fill the nice big lane to his left and taking the smarter route. While there is a DE to meet him, the momentum is all in McFarland’s favor and he drives for 6 yards after contact.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the wing back to the bottom of the screen.

And here we see why teams get so focused on outside runs. A well run wing back sweep takes two steps before the snap and, if the runner is fast enough, the edge doesn’t even need to be blocked. #9 for Indiana starts moving with McFarland, and ends up pushing him out of bounds after a 14 yard gain on 4th and inches. All McFarland needed to do was evade the edge defender on this play, and he does it with quick reflexes and great balance.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

The impressive part of this play is McFarland’s hips. He can sidestep and keep his shoulders squared up-field, and he is able to turn his hips quickly to get outside, and then turns back up-field quickly and accelerates.

Against Indiana Anthony McFarland ran for 210 yards on 29 carries. That yardage wasn’t from big chunk plays, McFarland had a lot of 7-15 yard runs in that game. The big runs would come the next week against the #9 team in the nation, Ohio State.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

Less than a minute into the game, and McFarland puts the Terrapins up a TD. Big plays like this one always involve the defense messing up, like the safety that was up too far on Willie Parker’s 75 yard Super Bowl run. In this situation the outside defender is #3. He takes 2 steps with the wing back’s motion, and with a double team taking out the DE, it’s a clear path for McFarland to score.

And for those of us who prefer to judge speed on the football field, it takes 8 seconds for McFarland to run 80 yards once he hits the 20 yard line and accelerates. He’s plenty fast.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

The Buckeyes aren’t going to get beat outside like that again. . . and similar to Indiana they commit too heavily outside and McFarland takes it B gap, where again he has one tackle to avoid, and he does. Brendon White (#25 OSU) took over safety for this game because he was their most sound tackler, but it wasn’t enough on this play. McFarland is nearly tripped up, but is able to jump out of the tackle. The impressive thing is when he lands he is squared up and explodes forward. Notice the DE’s on this play, against Iowa and Michigan State the DEs were key to thwarting Matt Canada’s offense, Ohio State’s DEs were losing battles in this game, and McFarland ran all over them.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

On this play #86 gets penetration, doesn’t commit outside or inside, and is able to shed the block to stop McFarland for no gain to bring up 3rd and 2.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

Matt Canada calls the same exact play on third down. This time #86 is blocked, and McFarland gets #25 to bite on an outside fake, and he’s in the secondary before you can blink. This run combines his two best skills I talked about in the first part of this series, he is running laterally, and uses that wicked jump cut to get past the line, but this time he lands squared forward and explodes with his straight line speed. It’s my favorite run of this game.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the wing back to the bottom of the screen.

Look at the defense focused on the RB, and it’s 2 blockers and 3 defenders to the play side. McFarland throws a little fake to get the safety to commit to the first gap, then turns on the speed to blow past Chase Young for 8 yards. Anthony McFarland sees the field and sets up his own success consistently. He doesn’t just follow blockers, he runs defenders into them.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the wing back to the top of the screen.

At this point in the game Anthony McFarland had more carries in 8 days than he’d had the 5 games before that combined. It was noticeable in a few of his runs, he didn’t have the same burst at the end of the game, but with the game on the line in overtime, he delivered again. The end of this run is the best part, he runs straight at the DB, and when he changes direction at the 6 yard line, it lets him carry the momentum, and he gets the ball to the goal line.

After a huge two week run, 508 yards and 2 TDs on 50 carries, doubling his yards and TDs for the season, Maryland would struggle mightily against Penn State,running for just over 2 yards a carry, with McFarland rushing 6 times for 12 yards.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

Penn State’s DE’s were a big factor all game long, on this play the right side gets sealed off by Yetur Gross-Matos (#99 PSU) and McFarland is forced to evade defenders in the backfield, he still gets 6 yards on this play, but he was fighting just to get that much.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

Shareef Miller (#48 PSU) is able to seal the edge while the LB’s take away the inside lanes, and Gross-Matos runs down McFarland from behind.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

Yetur Gross-Matos dominated this game, again shutting down a run to the left. This is a phenomenal job of defending the edge. Check it out from a different angle.

Gross-Matos forces the run outside, and has the athleticism to get to McFarland and bring him down for a loss.


The Takeaway

I wanted to focus a little more on the scheme for this part of the series, because the Steelers brought in Matt Canada and Anthony McFarland, and those two combined to dismantle Ohio State and nearly pulled off the upset. The 340 yards Maryland ran for in that game is the second most Ohio State has given up in the last 20 years, the 7.8 yards per carry was also the second most allowed and 4 rushing TDs is tied for the most rushing TDs against Ohio State since 2000.

With Canada on the Steelers staff, we may see some of his influence in the offense going forward. Canada’s run schemes at Maryland were fantastic for attacking teams with pass rush oriented edges like Chase Young, and created big play opportunities against less disciplined defenses. In 2019 the Steelers saw some of the highest numbers disadvantages in the box in the entire NFL. Canada exploited those situations in college, we may see variations show up in the Steelers playbook.

The other takeaway from this film room is that while McFarland dominated when he finally was relied on as a workhorse RB, he also struggled under that kind of load. Late in the Ohio State game and in the Penn State game he didn’t have the same acceleration as he did when his legs were fresher.

In part three we will look at the 2019 season, look at how he was affected by injury, how his game evolved and I’ll give my thoughts as we approach his rookie season.