Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
“The heart, Ramon. Don't forget the heart. Aim for the heart, or you'll never stop me.”
- Joe. “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964)
If San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan wanted to prove that he could run the ball and win a playoff game, he certainly made his statement on Saturday afternoon.
All-Pro defensive back Richard Sherman picked off Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins early in the third quarter. A 13-yard return put the 49ers at the Minnesota 29-yard line, but an unnecessary roughness call on rookie Nick Bosa backed the team up 15 yards.
Normally, I’d expect a head coach to call an intermediate or deep passing play to ensure the game’s momentum stayed with his team.
Not Kyle Shanahan.
Instead, Shanahan took aim at the kryptonite heart of the Vikings and called eight runs in a row, chewing up 4:55 minutes of clock, and resulting in seven points.
1st and 10 at the MIN 44 (9:49)
The 49ers opened the series with I Right Z Counter 14 Suzy, a staple play for the team this season.
Shanahan’s outside zone playbook includes a weak-side run he calls “Wanda,” which attacks the edge of the weak side of the formation. From that play, he’s developed an opposed called “14 Suzy.”
In this play, the offensive line takes a primary or read step in unison to the left, the weak side, along with both backs. Like a sailor drawn to a siren song, the defense has no choice but to flow with the offensive line.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk then cut back to the strong side, with running back Tevin Coleman in tow. The play got a little muddy at the end, but Coleman was able to squeeze four yards out of the run.
2nd and 6 at the MIN 40 (9:09)
Shanahan used a lot of “fly” and motion during the series. Fly tells a player to start on the ball away from the call, and then move to the formation. A motion call, such as “Left Out,” tells a player to start right and rung across and outside the formation.
Juszczyk’s movement from the outside to the formation put the 49ers’ offense in “North Right Clamp.”
At the snap, Juszczyk executed a “sift” block, which has him blocking the first defender outside the offensive tackle.
Sift is a blocking technique that goes as far back as Bill Walsh’s 1982 playbook. Walsh described it as a block “… on the backside of a play where the T (tackle) or Y blocks the most dangerous of a DE/LB or LB/Saf[sic] stack.”
Coleman took the handoff and went to his left before cutting back to the right. While the hole designation was 5 – to the weak side, it appeared he saw daylight to his right. Coleman should read the block of the first defensive lineman inside, then look out one gap at a time. I’m guessing Coleman saw the massive hole on the right and cut back against the grain.
Also, center Ben Garland gave left guard Laken Tomlinson an assist. At the snap, Vikings’ defensive end Everson Griffen spun off Tomlinson and looked to make a play. But Garland was there to take Griffen immediately to the turf.
Coleman gained six yards, enough for a first down.
1st and 10 at the MIN 34 (8:27)
It wouldn’t have been a Shanahan-esqe drive without seeing the 49ers’ offense run Wanda with a sift block at least once.
Wanda calls for the offensive line to use an outside zone push and rules to block. In the play above, the run was going right, which means each offensive lineman looks to his right to determine if he is covered or uncovered.
An offensive lineman is covered when a defender is between his nose and the nose of the lineman to his left. The lineman is uncovered if that scenario is not occurring.
The covered lineman usually makes a “reach” block on the defender to his right. The uncovered lineman runs to the second level to pick off a linebacker or lingering safety.
Initially, it was hard to tell if left tackle Joe Staley missed his block on Griffen. However, the sift block usually keys on the first defender outside the tackle, which would have been outside linebacker Anthony Barr.
Juszczyk picked up Griffen instead, which didn’t impact Coleman from gaining six yards.
2nd and 4 at the MIN 28 (7:47)
Coleman gained 16 yards on three carries to begin the drive. He went to the sideline and running back Raheem Mostert took the next three plays.
Tight end George Kittle aligned well outside the formation and motioned to I Right Clamp, giving the 49ers a strong right look.
The 49ers moved in unison to the strong side. Once again, Minnesota’s defense flowed with the 49ers, as the play looked like a zone run to the strong side.
But Shanahan had a new play to pull from his flat-brimmed hat.
While “14 Suzy”flows weak and the backs cut strong, he flipped the play and had the line flow strong. Both backs sold the play by taking two steps to the strong side, but then cutting back weak.
Mostert was able to gain seven yards on the play to give the 49ers another fresh set of downs.
1st and 10 at the MIN 21 (7:03)
Shanahan wasn’t done giving new situations for Minnesota’s defense.
Tight end Levine Toilolo entered the game as the Y receiver and moved Kittle to the U receiver. Kittle started the play just outside Toilolo’s hip but motioned to a “Tite Slot” formation.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo shouted “can” at the line of scrimmage, which killed the first play and activated the second play, “18 Force.”
A “force” run has the offense flowing strong, and the back attacking the perimeter of the strong side. It feels like a power run, maybe something a high school or junior college team might run.
But the strongside tackle does not make a down block Shanahan’s “force” runs, but instead uses outside zone blocking to create a gap for the back.
The running back eyes the outside leg of the tight end and takes an outside zone course. He will read the front side combination block outside-in, and he can make a vertical cut inside if he sees daylight.
A tremendous second level from Garland on middle linebacker Eric Kendricks also helped Mostert gain four yards, and move the 49ers to the 17-yard line.
2nd and 6 at the MIN 17 (6:21)
If I’m honest with the reader, I wanted Mostert to score on this play. It felt as if he was going to square up on his third step and sprint through a massive gap in the line.
That was not the outcome, but Mostert was able to gain four yards on “19 Support.”
Once again, Shanahan motioned Juszczyk, but this time well outside the formation. Minnesota was staring at a single-back look and was aligned in a 4-3 Over defense.
“Support” is another outside zone run to the strong side. Shanahan’s new twist was running it from a single-back formation.
When Shanahan calls Support, it tells the back to read the gaps one-at-a-time from outside to inside.
Mostert had an excellent block from Tomlinson and a second-level block from Garland. Garland earned an 80.7 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus.
3rd and 2 at the MIN 13 (5:39)
It was clear Shanahan was not going to throw on this series, and since Mostert didn’t score on the previous play, he’d give Coleman a shot to earn six points.
The 49ers broke the huddle and were in a “Change Right” formation. “Change” flips the backs, and “right” tells the tight end where to align.
But Kittle motioned to the left side, putting the 49ers in a strong left formation.
Shanahan’s power runs keep the old school DNA, as he still attacks the strong side of the formation. But, as usual, Shanahan can run it out from a variety of looks.
With two backs, the fullback pinpoints the inside leg of the play side tackle and keys on the end man on the line of scrimmage. The pulling guard comes through and heads to the second level to shove aside any linebackers who might cause a problem.
The running back runs downhill toward the A-gap and read each gap from the inside out. Unlike a high school or junior college power that designates a specific hole for the running back, Shanahan allows the back to head through the two, four, or six holes.
Coleman found enough room to squeeze through, and brought the ball to the Minnesota two-yard line.
1st and Goal at the MIN 2 (4:57)
For all of Shanahan’s genius, he often gets overlooked for how simple he keeps his game plan.
He didn’t make any substitutions, nor did he have the offense align in some exotic formation.
Like a bored high school coach looking to catch the starting defense sleeping, Shanahan flipped the previous play from the left side to the strong side.
The 49ers scored on “16 Power,” using the same backfield, same motion, and pulling a guard to the right.
It’s that easy.
This series put the 49ers up by 14 points, and while the game wasn’t completely sealed, it certainly made the last beer at the bar a little colder and go down much smoother.
All images courtesy of NFL.com.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
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