Years ago, when two awful teams would play one another, my friend Kyle and I would call it the “Toilet Bowl.”
Yes, I know. You and your friends probably did the same thing in third grade. But we thought we were the only intelligent people who could come up with something so witty.
This Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants face off in the worst football game of the weekend. These two juggernauts have combined for a total of 272 points this year, which is less than the Philadelphia Eagles have scored thus far.
Unfortunately, this is one of the last games the 49ers have a chance of winning, so here are three keys to victory.
Keep the Passing Game Short
There have been multiple occasions this season where I felt like I’ve been repeating myself with how the 49ers can win games. This week is no different.
However, rather than hammer away at every nuance rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard needs to improve upon, I have one play that head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan should call until the Giants stop it.
Flex Right 200 Jet Dragon Lion.
The play is a slant-flat concept with the X and Z-receivers running double slants on the left. On the right, the Y and F-receivers run a slant-flat combination. The Y runs directly into the flat, and the F runs a six-yard slant route.
Like with any 2-Jet blocking, four offensive linemen move to the weak side of the play, with the right tackle and back picking up the strong side. Facing a 3-4 defense, the defensive front the Giants use, the right tackle would pick up the defensive end and the back would pick up the Mike or Sam linebacker. The back can release into the middle of the field if nobody comes his way.
If the defense aligns with a single-high safety – say a Cover 1 or Cover 3 look, Beathard reads the slant-flat combination to the right. If it’s a Cover 2 or any split safety look, Beathard reads the double-slants on his left.
Considering Beathard’s sack rate – sixth highest in the league at 8.6 percent – and a total inability to throw from the far hash to the opposite sideline, Shanahan needs to use plays that allow Beathard to make quick, easy decisions and not hang out in the pocket for too long.
Run Away from Guard Laken Tomlinson and Center Daniel Kilgore
Football fans, much like your mother-in-law, love to be right. After trading a fifth round pick to Detroit for guard Laken Tomlinson, Shanahan said: “He (Tomlinson) hasn’t played in a system like this in college or in the NFL, but he’s got the tools to be successful, and we’re excited to get to work with him.”
I’m unclear what ‘tools’ Shanahan or general manager John Lynch thought Tomlinson had in his toolbox, but it sure wasn’t more than a rusted tack hammer.
After hearing of the trade, I noted his Pro Football Focus grade and overall rank as a guard in the NFL: a 49.9 grade in 2016, placing him 64th out of 72 guards.
Of course, some fans convinced themselves Tomlinson was a great deal because he was a former first-round selection.
Well, Gentle Reader, Tomlinson has proven me right. He’s terrible, and his vortex of garbage has sucked in center Daniel Kilgore, too.
Pro Football Focus currently grades Tomlinson at 43.7 and Kilgore at 43.8 this season. Unfortunately, Kilgore’s play has dropped significantly. Tomlinson, somehow, worked hard enough to regress as a player.
And, to make it worse, these two have to face a Giants defensive line that is the bright beacon of hope for a bleak franchise. Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison is an excellent defensive tackle, as is Dalvin Tomlinson (no relation to the 49ers’ Tomlinson).
Most of us agree that Shanahan needs to bring balance to the offensive attack. I understand that some situations require more passing, especially if the 49ers are down by 14 points in a game. But calling 17 runs against 51 passes is unacceptable.
This week, Shanahan needs to craft some outside zone runs for running backs Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida, or jet sweeps to keep the ball carrier far away from the interior of the line of scrimmage.
A Special Teams Score?
There’s a fantastic scene toward the end of the ‘Crossroads’ episode of the miniseries Band of Brothers. The start of the Battle of the Bulge has begun and Colonel Sink is explaining the situation in Bastogne.
As Sink gets in his Jeep, Captain Lewis Nixon says, “We’re a short on ammunition.” Captain Richard Winters explains there was a limited supply in camp.
Sink responds, “Captain, you beg, borrow, or steal ammo, but you defend this area.”
That must be the mentality this week for the 49ers and scoring points. With an offense that can’t score or harness any momentum, and a defense that has played from behind for over 300 minutes this season, the 49ers need points from the special teams unit.
Unfortunately, this may be a tall order since rookie wide receiver Trent Taylor is out this week. However, it may open the door for rookie wide receiver Victor Bolden, Jr. to run back a kickoff or a punt. Don’t forget his 104-yard kickoff return in the preseason. I keep thinking that the 49ers’ special teams unit is due for a big play, and maybe with Taylor’s absence, we’ll finally see some fireworks.