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Film breakdown: Micah McFadden’s big outing

The much-maligned second-year linebacker played well vs. 49ers

NFL: Chicago Bears at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants fell to 1-2 after their 30-12 Thursday Night Football loss in Santa Clara, California, against the 49ers. The Giants had several injuries on the offensive side of the football, and only mustered 150 yards of total offense, while San Francisco recorded 441 yards on offense.

Typically, with yardage totals that vast for the 49ers, positive defensive observations seem scarce. There was one name, though, that announcers Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit kept praising, and that is the name of Micah McFadden.

The second-year linebacker out of Indiana recorded ten tackles, four for a loss, and a pass deflection away from running back Christian McCaffrey that saved a touchdown. Wink Martindale blitzed the 49ers on 33 of 39 dropbacks; the defensive philosophy of the game was aggression, and McFadden provided just that for the veteran defensive coordinator.

Here are McFadden’s tackles. We will go over some individually:

[Micah McFadden is No. 41]

McFadden vs. the run

I loved to see this decisive play from McFadden on second-and-four. Kyle Shanahan maximizes his outside zone by either pulling a tight end or Kyle Juszczyk (44) to help uproot the end man on the line of scrimmage. New York aligned with two 4-techniques (directly over the tackle) with a nose-technique over the center.

The alignment initially isolated George Kittle (85) against Jihad Ward (55), and Juszczyk helped eliminate Ward, but this forced the 49ers to use Ronnie Bell (10) to locate McFadden, since Colton McKivitz (68) had to ensure that Rakeem Nuñez-Roches (93) was removed from the play side. However, the young linebacker never gave Bell the angle. McFadden shot the C-Gap, stayed square on Christian McCaffrey (23) and secured the tackle for a 4-yard loss.

[Left side of screen LB]

McFadden quickly diagnosed the full-back dive to Juszczyk on second-and-2. He beat guard Aaron Banks (65) to the three hole to stop the full-back just before he crossed the first-down marker. McFadden did not fall for the jet-motion with the outside zone look; something, as we see above, the 49ers ran often.

[Left side of screen LB]

On first-and-ten, McFadden saw the motioning Juszczyk to the play side and he reacted accordingly to beat Trent Williams (71) into the five hole. Williams quickly transitioned off the deuce block, but McFadden dipped underneath Williams, stayed low, and dove at McCaffrey’s feet to trip the running back in the hole.

[Left side of screen LB]

The 49ers harass second level defenders with all their movement before and after the snap. Shanahan aligned in split-back with Deebo Samuel (19) in motion to orbit right at the snap. The ACE block on A’Shawn Robinson (91) climbed right into the lap of McFadden who set to the outside to respect Samuel, before working over the top of the double team to locate Elijah Mitchell (25) on first-and-10.

McFadden’s vision has improved this season. There’s a lot of eye-candy above, but McFadden was able to see through it, avoid the climbing linemen, and locate the ball carrier.

[Right side of screen]

An excellent job by McFadden to avoid McKivitz and Samuel’s block before he eliminated the edge as an option and leveraged his short-area-quickness to sprint through the hip of Mitchell on another outside zone rush.

In coverage

[Left side of screen LB]

This first play doesn’t show McFadden’s coverage skills, but rather his effort. Some may say this play is actually McFadden’s fault, since the dig route is completed at the back depth of his drop, but George Kittle’s location forced McFadden toward the line of scrimmage, which created the window. What I wanted to highlight, though, was McFadden tracking Samuel down 20 yards after the catch to finally get the star receiver to the ground.

[Right side of screen LB]

McFadden had several issues in coverage throughout his rookie season. He was benched against Green Bay after four plays because of two blown coverages. It’s great to see the angle he took to match McCaffrey to the flat. He’s boxing McCaffrey inside, staying shaded to the outside; he forced the spin back inside and secured the tackle for a loss. A great play from the young linebacker.

[Top of screen LB]

[Left side of screen LB]

McFadden was technically beaten on this play. Still, I appreciated how he stayed step-for-step with one of the best receiving backs in the NFL on the rail route to the pylon. Purdy’s throw was accurate with touch, and McCaffrey was able to get both hands on the ball. A worse through may have drawn a faceguarding call. However, the throw got to McCaffrey and McFadden did an excellent job knocking the ball out of the running back’s hands for an incomplete pass. Unfortunately, a defensive hold away from the play was called.

[Left side of screen LB]

McFadden is just off the screen; he stepped to the mesh point and quickly realized a gigantic man named Trent Williams beeline outside, which tipped off the screen. McFadden quickly got to the numbers and slowed Samuel down to allow Ward to secure the tackle. McFadden received an assisted tackle on the play.

[Left side of screen LB]

McFadden was responsible for George Kittle on this first-and-10 play action bootleg in the third quarter. The young linebacker stepped down hard off the play fake and Kittle had nothing but space to the outside.

Missed tackles

Thursday was encouraging for McFadden, but far from perfect. The young linebacker leads the Giants in tackles with 20 (Pro Football Focus). However, he also leads the Giants in missed tackles with seven, a 22.6% rate. That’s unacceptable. McFadden had a poor showing against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2, but he also had three missed tackles against San Francisco.

[Right side of screen LB]

McFadden was juked out of his cleats in the red zone on first and goal. McCaffrey jump-cut inside while landing a stiff arm on McFadden’s head to pick up an extra four yards on the play.

[Left side of screen]

The 49ers ran power with one puller (the backside guard) to the same side as McCaffrey’s original alignment. Xavier McKinney (29) is blocked into McFadden. Bobby Okereke (58) attempted to penetrate underneath Banks, as the guard climbed, but Trent Williams used Nuñez-Roches as a shield to pick Okereke off. McFadden had a shot at McCaffrey in the hold, but he missed the tackle.

[Left side of screen LB]

I don’t blame McFadden a ton on this missed tackle; it’s not as egregious as the other two. McFadden stepped to the run, but Purdy threw the quick slant. It appeared like the 49ers were pass blocking, so perhaps it was not an RPO. Still, McFadden stepped to the run and Samuel was open. McFadden got his hand on the inside hip of Samuel, but that’s not nearly enough to bring a player like Deebo Samuel down.

Final thoughts

Plenty of discussion revolved around the Giants’ linebackers through the offseason. New York signed Bobby Okereke to a deal worth $10-million a year. To be frank, he hasn’t looked good through three games. He is adjusting to a new defense, and his comfort level may stabilize in due time; that is, of course, if he’s actually uncomfortable.

The spot next to Okereke was another topic of discussion, and through two games that discussion was negative. McFadden’s Week 2 was problematic, but the young player responded well in the bright lights of primetime. McFadden’s performance wasn’t perfect, and there’s still plenty of room for development.

However, he was much more dialed in and made plays inside of the tackle box, outside toward the numbers, and in coverage. An encouraging performance for McFadden, who will look to replicate it under the bright lights of Monday Night Football against Seattle in Week 4.