Christian McCaffrey

McCaffrey's 49ers usage still ‘hard' for Shanahan to balance

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Two weeks after Christian McCaffrey was on the field for every single 49ers offensive snap, coach Kyle Shanahan still is working on finding the right balance for his star running back.

McCaffrey had an outstanding performance in the 49ers' 35-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals, racking up four touchdowns with 106 yards on the ground and 71 receiving yards.

With McCaffrey's offensive production through the roof, Shanahan is having a difficult time pulling the All-Pro off the field during games.

“It’s always hard,” Shanahan said via conference call on Monday. “We did it for a couple drives, but we still put him in on third down. It was only 55 plays in the game which was smaller, and yes, we would love him to have a little more rest but he is extremely tough to take out.”

McCaffrey was on the field against the Cardinals for 47 offensive plays, or 85 percent, while J.P. Mason was in the game for 8 plays, or 15 percent. With Elijah Mitchell inactive due to a knee injury and Deebo Samuel dealing with knee and rib soreness, more of the offensive workload fell on McCaffrey’s shoulders.

In the 49ers' Week 3 win over the New York Giants, the offense was on the field for a whopping 83 plays. While McCaffrey was on the field for only 61 percent of the plays, that still added up to 51 plays, which is a higher total than what the Stanford product saw against the Cardinals (47).

McCaffrey’s incredible production every time he has the ball in his hands makes it difficult for Shanahan to shift gears and send another ball carrier into the backfield, but after less than a year in Santa Clara, the former first-round draft pick continues to improve.

“I think last year he was so good at [the offensive scheme] too, but I do think he has gotten better,” Shanahan said. "I think he understands it better as a whole, not that he didn’t last year, but I think this stuff comes pretty natural to Christian, but he also works at it harder than any player I’ve been around.

“He doesn’t just figure out what he’s supposed to do, he understands the package of everybody. That’s why he picks things up fast, and that’s why he’s been interchangeable at all the spots we put him at.”

McCaffrey and the 49ers' offense have another tough task ahead against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium. The Cowboys have allowed an average of only 259 yards of offense per game through four weeks which ranks them No. 2 in the league behind the Cleveland Browns (196.8).

In such an important and intense game this weekend, Shanahan might struggle again to take his best offensive weapon off the field.

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