Preseason Week 2 has come and gone. The 49ers franchise quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, was dealt his first NFL loss as a starter. The 49ers fell to the Texans 16-13 in Houston, but that's not what we are here to talk about. This is preseason, the outcome does not mean anything. I’m going to break down a few plays that were successful, and a few that were not.
I want to start off with two plays that are the base to Kyle Shanahan’s intricate offense: the outside zone running play, and the play-action boot.
The outside zone is the base run play in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. You can recognize it by watching the offensive line. They are moving horizontally to the play side, trying to move the defensive line towards the boundary. The play requires a difficult block for the center, Weston Richburg (#59), who signed a big contract in the off season. He is performing what is called a reach block, moving into the second level of the defense to block the linebacker. This blocking scheme is referred to as a “zone” due to the fact that the offensive linemen do not have a specific man to block, but just an area or a “zone.” If a lineman has no one to block in his specific zone, he is to either double team someone else, or move to the second level to take on a linebacker. On this play you can see the tight end, Garrett Celek, moving to the second level due to no one in his zone to block.
The outcome of the play above is not ideal. The running back, Jeremy McNichols (#33), has three options on an outside zone run play: bounce, bang, or bend. He can bounce it outside the tackle on the play side, bang it inside between the guard and tackle or guard and center, or bend it inside. On this play he bent it into the A gap between the guard and center, then was met by a waiting defender. If McNichols would have bent the play inside towards the right tackle, there was room to gain chunk yardage on this play.
The play-action boot, shown above, works directly off of the outside zone run play, and demonstrates why the combination of an outside zone run game and the play-action boot can put a defense in such a bind. The entire offense is flowing in one direction, which forces the defense to flow that way. The hard play-action fake by the quarterback combined with the tight end moving against the grain of the offensive play puts the linebacker of the Texans in an extremely tough position. If he follows the tight end and the play isn’t a play-action fake, he puts the defense in a tough spot due to the middle of the field being vacated. The slight hesitation due to the play-action gives the quarterback just enough space to make an on-time throw for a nice gain on first down.
Kyle Shanahan is trying to find creative ways to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers. Rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis (#18) is one of those guys. This preseason he has shown a knack for getting open downfield on passing routes. In this play Shanahan decides to run a reverse to Pettis. Shanahan has done this in the past; last year he ran this play with some success with wide receiver and speedster Marquise Goodwin. In this instance the play is diagnosed extremely well by the defense. The play is designed as a double fake. First, there’s the play action from the quarterback, which the defense does not bite on. Second, the offensive line is pass-blocking and the fullback is running a route like it is a passing play. The defense is not fooled by either of these fakes and meets Pettis in the backfield for a 6-yard loss.
One thing to consider, is this play looks almost identical to a play we call “Yankee concept,” which is a deep shot play using play-action and a fake reverse. Yankee concept is a two receiver route concept with one running a post route and the other running a dig route. Yankee concept is a play that Shanahan likes to call almost every single game at least once.
2017 preseason week 3 49ers at Vikings “Yankee Concept”
On this fourth-and-1 play in the 1st quarter, Jimmy Garoppolo does not like his first or second reads. A lot of quarterbacks would panic in this situation, and either force the ball to a covered receiver or tuck it and run. Garoppolo stays cool and calm in a crowded pocket and finds his fullback in the flat. This play was not designed to go to the fullback; I would be surprised if he is even one of Garoppolo’s designed reads. The fullback’s route was designed to hold the zone cornerback if the defense is in zone coverage, or carry a linebacker if the defense is in man coverage. Where this goes wrong for the defense is the cornerback, who has the zone between the numbers and the boundary, carries the receiver running a slant towards the middle of the field. That leaves his zone wide open for the fullback. The impressive part about this play was that Garoppolo was able to find him in a stressful situation. The defense had the design of this play covered well. Garoppolo overcame the coaching, as Kyle Shanahan likes to say, and found the open guy for a huge gain on fourth down.
Next week the 49ers travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts in the all-important 3rd preseason game. That game will be the one and only preseason game that the coaching staff will actually game plan for. Stay tuned for next week’s film study.
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