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Like a Patient Etherized Upon a Table: Breaking Down the 49ers’ Offense
It’s been months since I cracked my notebook to breakdown a game with square-jawed quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo behind center. A blown knee and thoughts of what-could-have-been were just nearly unbearable.
Alas, the 49ers Hub brass yanked the beak from my heart and forced me to face my sorrow for the lost ligament. This week, I bring you a key play from the San Francisco 49ers’ win against the Detroit Lions.
Week 1 vs. Detroit Lions – Third Quarter: 1st and 10 at the SF3 15. (2:05)
Play: X Short to I Right, Roll Right Shallow
Head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan showed the world there is more than one way to run a flood play. Minus the play-action, the routes and rollout from the quarterback are nearly identical to what was in my 1997 high school playbook.
Indeed, you will find Roll Right Shallow, or some variance, at every level of football. Plays like this are designed to cut the field for a quarterback, get the defense on its heels and gain a chunk of yards quickly.
Shanahan simply added some flair with the play-action, offensive line deception and a much more professional sounding terminology. Face it, Flood Pass Right doesn't have the same ring.
Wide receiver Dante Pettis, on the left of the formation, ran a low cross to occupy the safety and possibly pick up a dropping linebacker. In Shanahan’s roll right plays, the low cross is the second read for the quarterback.
X-receiver Pierre Garçon had a short motion to the right and lined up just off tackle Joe Staley’s hip. Don’t overlook his block on the defensive end as unimportant; his job was to help sell the fake toss, including the tall task to block a player who outweighs Garçon by 50 pounds.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk faked a lead block to the left, and then spun on his feet to head into the right flat. Shanahan calls this a “Slide,” which is typically the first read in Roll Right Shallow.
Tight end Garrett Celek flowed to the left with the line, faking a block before moving to the flat late in the play. He was the third read on the play but ended up standing in the hot sun with nobody near him. He'd gain eleven yards on the play.
The blocking in the play wasn’t anything new for the 49ers. Often, the line moves in unison in one direction to set up a zone run. The look here is quite similar to a zone run, but Shanahan added in a fake toss and Garçon's block on the defensive end to keep things interesting.
Most of what made this play successful was Detroit’s eagerness to play the toss left. Once the 49ers’ offensive line went left, the Lions’ defense was more than happy to take the bait.
Take a look at the middle linebackers and the interior linemen. The linebackers read their keys - both guards moving to the left - and saw the ballcarrier also go left. Shanahan's added flair kept all eyes squarely in the backfield, rather than heads on a swivel looking for open receivers.
The all-22 view from the top of the stadium shows how out of position Detroit was for the play.
Football is nothing more than a game of deception, with a lot of wild terminologies used to find the weak point in a defense or soft spot in coverage.
Think about a youth football team running a single-wing offense. Usually, the single-wing team crushes the opposition because nobody on the defense can figure out who’s carrying the ball. It's a strategy that's based wholly on deception, rather than 467 pages of plays that might work now and then.
Detroit had at least five players out of position once they realized Garoppolo still had the ball and was rolling to a large open area on the field. These men were on their heels trying to get back into a better position.
I don’t like making assumptions about what went on before or during a play. However, Detroit’s over-aggression made me wonder if they heard something in the cadence or saw something in the formation that tipped them off to a run.
Once Garoppolo hit the top of the roll and Detroit’s defense recovered, it was clear that Garoppolo’s first read, Juszczyk, was not going to be an option. It appears on tape as if Garoppolo glanced further downfield to find Pettis on the low cross. From this angle, Pettis looks open, but he had more field to cover to complete the route.
Celek, the third read on the play, was sitting all alone at the four-yard line. I love that Celek ran a one-yard route and gained eleven.
I always like sharing what the quarterback saw the moment before the ball left his hand. From this angle, it’s clear neither Pettis or Juszczyk were open, but Celek has a lot of open grass to gain critical yardage.
I’m also unclear where Lions outside linebacker Christian Jones was going. He took an angled drop but ran to an open space where there were no 49ers. Maybe we should thank Jones for blowing his assignment and allowing for Celek's eleven-yard gain.
Celek’s play doesn’t seem like much, but it’s the small parts of Shanahan’s system that lead to big plays. Two plays later, Breida took a handoff to the right and ran 66 yards for a touchdown.
In typical 49er fashion, it was the team’s last touchdown of the game, and the team gained 52 yards on 16 plays to close out the win against the Lions.
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