Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
The Desaturating Seven
When the cosmos feels in alignment for a football team – such as an afternoon home game, coming off a massive win against the New Orleans Saints, or inches away from a playoff berth – it’s usually when the stars fall.
Naturally, the San Francisco 49ers showed up looking unprepared and with a flat game plan when they took the field in a Week 15 contest against the Atlanta Falcons.
Games are not won or lost in the waning seconds. No, teams win by playing consistently for 60 minutes and taking advantage of the opponent when and where necessary.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s last seven play-calls were part of the loss, and deserve scrutiny as the team prepares to face the Los Angeles Rams.
1st and 10 at the SF 25 (5:15)
The 49ers took the ball for the tenth time that afternoon with the hope of either draining the clock or putting up a late score to put the game out of reach.
Shanahan opened with a weak play-action. The offensive line was to block aggressively to the left side, with fullback Kyle Juszczyk and running back Raheem Mostert faking a run to the 5-hole.
The play motioned wide receiver Deebo Samuel short, and then called for him to bend behind the backfield and end up on the right side of the formation.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders ran down the field, possibly acting as a clearing route. Tight end George Kittle stayed in to block.
When quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hit the top of his drop, he found nobody open. As of writing, it is unclear if Sanders was covered. His only options were Juszczyk in the left flat and Mostert as an outlet in the middle of the field.
Garoppolo moved up in a crowded pocket and had to throw it to Juszczyk in the flat. Juszczyk gained four yards, but more importantly, the clock kept running.
2nd and 6 at the SF 29 (4:29)
Mostert ran the ball 14 times for 54 yards on Sunday, but his most crucial run came when Shanahan called “15 Weak Insert.’’ The 49ers needed six yards to keep the drive going, and the seconds ticking away.
Mostert, the team’s workhorse, battled most of the Falcons’ defense and gained eight.
The play began in an I Right Zoom formation. Samuel, the X receiver, went in motion to the right and aligned just outside Kittle’s hip.
Weak Insert attacks the inside hip of the play side tackle on the weak side. However, the running back must read the first block of the defensive line, working inside out from the center. He reacts to the flow of the line.
If you watch the play, Mostert bounced back to the strong side. It was clear the weak side was too clogged, and he saw daylight to his right.
One pet peeve I have about some football critics is coaching to the letter and diagram of the book. Plays do not unfold as drawn. Often, players are improvising or making a last-second adjustment to a route, run, or protection.
Mostert made the right read and got the 49ers a first down.
1st and 10 at the SF 37 (3:44)
With the clock running, Shanahan got too smart, and though a movement play-action would catch the Falcons defense sleeping.
Shanahan called ‘‘I Right Closer Fake 19 Force Keep Right F Slide.’’ Once again, the play-action headed to the weak side of the line.
Kittle lined up off the outside hip of reserve tight end Levine Toilolo. Kittle, again, stayed in to block while Toilolo ran a “down flat” route.
Sanders ran a low cross from the left side of the field to the right. Juszczyk started with a fake block to the left, but slid across the formation and ended up in the flat.
“Keep Right F Slide” is an intelligent play design, but was not meant for this moment.
Shanahan had two options. First, keep feeding Mostert and let him work to get four or five yards in a cloud of flying turf.
Second, if Shanahan was dying to throw the football, he should have called something with a higher percentage, such as “2 Jet Lion.” Lion is a holdover from Bill Walsh’s system and sends all his receivers on quick slant routes, which would have been ideal against Atlanta’s coverage.
2nd and 10 at the SF 37 (3:37)
Samuel’s 30-yard gain on the drive was the shining moment for Shanahan.
Once again, the 49ers offense aligned in an I Right Zoom formation, with Samuel as the X receiver. Samuel motioned across the formation and ended up outside of Kittle’s hip.
At the snap, the entire offensive line moved in unison to the right, with Juszczyk and Mostert also headed right.
Samuel was able to slip behind the line of scrimmage, while Garoppolo pulled the ball from Mostert’s belly and booted to his left.
There was Samuel, all alone, with not a Falcon insight.
These plays are high-percentage play-action throws. Also, it got Garoppolo away from his piecemeal offensive line.
It appeared that the 49ers could bleed the clock and, at worse, come away with three points.
1st and 10 at the ATL 34 (2:48)
I don’t fault Shanahan for calling a run to the strong side, with a sift block from Kittle. By the time the team got downfield and huddled, there wasn’t much time left on the play clock to audible or make many adjustments.
More importantly, the clock kept running.
2nd and 8 at the ATL 32 (2:09)
Here’s where things started to go south for Shanahan and the offense.
Shanahan set the play up with Juszczyk moving from a weak right to strong right, or Jazz motion. I thought the 49ers would run a power to the right or set up for “14 Suzy.”
Rather than run the ball, Shanahan felt a pass with a 5-step drop would get the job done.
Not surprisingly, the offensive line collapsed against a five-man rush. Garoppolo dropped 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage and tried to make something happen with his feet.
The 49ers’ interior linemen had a terrible day of football, especially right guard Mike Person.
The best Garoppolo could do was find Sanders, who was able to gain four yards.
Fortunately, that took the clock to 1:59, and the 49ers could regroup for a vital third down.
3rd and 4 at the ATL 28 (1:59)
There was no way the 49ers could bleed the clock dry, as Atlanta still had two timeouts. Even if the 49ers ran the ball, it was likely Atlanta would stop the clock, so I don’t disagree with throwing the ball in this situation.
I strongly disagree with a jailbreak screen to Kittle.
George Kittle is the heart of the 49ers. There’s no question of what he can do at any moment with or without the ball. But asking the man to run eight yards when the 49ers only needed four yards was a foolish decision.
Shanahan has hundreds of ways to get the ball to Kittle using short routes like Thunder, Lion, Stick, or Flat.
If Shanahan was concerned about the offensive line, then he has immediate movement plays like sprint option or “Flow 6 Y Corner Cross” – which is a garbled way to call a flood to the right.
Why do two times the work when there are plays that would have put Kittle well past the sticks for a first down?
The 49ers were forced to kick a field goal and left too much time on the clock for Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan.
I’m not an expert, nor am I anywhere near the level of comprehending the game like Shanahan. But football is made difficult when coaches overthink situations or try and get too smart to seal a win.
That was one of Shanahan’s sins on Sunday afternoon, and one I hope he will learn from as the 49ers close out the 2019 season.
You can follow Bret on Twitter here!
Stay tuned to 49ersHub for more great 49ers coverage and analysis!