The long wait is finally over, football is back! Now that the season is here we can finally discuss the 2018 49ers. Each week I will be breaking down specific plays from the previous week's game and explaining why they worked, or why they failed miserably.
This week the hated Dallas Cowboys came to town, and the game did not disappoint. The 49ers pulled of a miraculous win by scoring a touchdown with 19 seconds left. We will get to the game winning play, but first let’s start with the first drive of the game.
Third down and 10: a great position for the 49ers defense, but on this play 3rd year quarterback Dak Prescott gets the 1st down by using his legs. Why did he have so much room to run for an easy 1st down? First off, right defensive end Dakota Watson (#97) did not penetrate the proper gap. Deforest Buckner is trying to penetrate the B gap (the gap between the guard and the tackle); where it went wrong is Watson tries to go through the same gap. He should have wrapped behind Buckner and went through the A gap. Watson not being in the proper gap created all the space in the middle of the offensive line. The route combinations ran by the tight end and the running back occupy the linebackers. Those two things create all that room for Prescott to run for an easy first down.
First down and 20 after an offensive penalty: chunk yardage is important on this particular play. Kyle Shanahan dials up a play specifically to get the tight end open in the middle of the field. In this instance that tight end is second-year man Cole Hikutini. He runs a simple post route and is wide open. Why? First off, the pre-snap motion of the running back clears the weak side linebacker to cover the receiver opposite the tight end. The slot receiver next to the tight end runs an in route, which is designed to occupy the slot corner, and hold the linebacker in the middle of the field. When Hikutini turns on his post route, the linebacker freezes for a second due to the slot receiver’s route, which then gives Hikutini enough time to get wide open in the middle of the field. Great route combinations called by Shanahan.
This is an example of a play that did not work properly. A simple two-read play for the quarterback. It looks to be low to high, from the slot receiver to the outside receiver running across the field. The slot receiver should have been one-on-one with the corner due to the tight end, but he was jammed at the line and could not complete his route on time. The outside receiver did not have a step on the corner, but could have made a play with a perfect throw. This is just a well-covered play by the defense, who did not bite on the play action boot.
Now, the game winning touchdown to rookie wide receiver Richie James. This is a great play by both quarterback Nick Mullens and James. Mullens throws an on-time pass with pressure in his face, and James makes a nice catch in traffic. James had a step on the corner due to the route combination that he and the tight end ran. The tight end ran an out, which crossed with James running a slant route. When the two crossed it put the corner and the linebacker in a tough situation, giving a slight edge to James, who took full advantage. This is the type of route concepts we will see from Shanahan in 2018. All routes are run for a specific reason. Some are designed for the player to be open, and others are designed to help other players get open.
This was a fun game to watch schematically; the team executed his game plan very well. Last season at this time no one was where they should be. This season is an entirely different ball game. Next week the team heads to Houston to play the Texans. They will also be doing joint practices with Houston, which is a great learning experience for the younger players.
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