The Hateful Eight: Three Plays That Cost the 49ers a Ring
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
The San Francisco 49ers played their worst football game of the 2019 season on Sunday, and it cost them a sixth Super Bowl title.
Floating through the wealth of love and hate are a few clear voices as to why the 49ers lost on Sunday evening.
Overall coaching on both sides of the ball, including the game plan and preparedness, may undoubtedly be called into question.
What may go overlooked is the overall poor execution from 49er veteran players, not just from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
The Kansas City Chiefs scored with 6:17 left in the fourth quarter to bring the game within three points. Garoppolo and head coach Kyle Shanahan needed to bleed as much time from the clock as possible and come away with at least three points.
It was a Montana-esqe moment for a team that nobody picked to go this far into the season.
Unfortunately, the eighth 49ers’ possession was when the crystal carriage turned into a rotting pumpkin.
4th Quarter: 1st and 10 at the SF 20 (6:06)
Running back Raheem Mostert was on the field for Shanahan’s only run of the series.
“Support” is a run that attacks the strong side of the formation. Usually, the running back takes an outside zone course on the play, pressing the outer leg of the tight end.
The 38/39 series are a set of counter runs, which give the play a slightly different vibration even with outside zone blocking upfront.
Zone blocking does allow for some defenders to go unblocked. However, tackle Joe Staley did not get immediately to the second level and block linebacker Damien Wilson. Wilson clogged the gap and helped bring down Mostert for a gain of five yards.
Now, a five-yard run is nothing to ignore. Second-and-5 is ideal for a run or a quick-hitting play-action. Both keep the clock ticking away, and the chains moving.
2nd and 5 at the SF 25 (5:27)
Fans can criticize Shanahan’s pass mentality during Super Bowl LIV as much as they wish, but Garoppolo was successful between the hash marks from the line of scrimmage to 20 yards downfield. He was 11-for-15 with 151 yards, one touchdown, and a 121.6 passer rating.
I can’t imagine Shanahan knew all those figures off the top of his head when he called the first “Arches” play of this possession.
“Arches” is a play Shanahan has run for years, with the orbit return motion as a new twist to an old favorite.
The swing motion didn’t fool anyone, but the “Arches” call to Kittle was outstanding.
At the snap, the Chiefs brought six on a weak side blitz, with linebacker Anthony Hitchens looping through the C-gap and cornerback Charvarius Ward coming off the edge.
The blitz dropped veteran defensive end Terrell Suggs into coverage, resulting in an ideal match-up for tight end George Kittle.
Throughout all of 2019, Kittle caught 44 of 55 passes over the middle for 669 yards and three scores. Some of his best work was between the line of scrimmage and 20 yards downfield, the exact place for an “Arches” route.
Friends, we have to assume Shanahan knew these statistics. And frankly, if I can get the ball to a man like Kittle, I’ll find a way to do it.
Garoppolo was ready to let the ball fly to Kittle once he hit the top of his short drop. There was plenty of open space and a first down waiting for the People’s Tight End.
Champions are built by the sum of the little things they do right. On Sunday, the 49ers did not execute on those tiny details.
The 49ers’ offensive line moved to its left, which brought the Chiefs’ front along for the ride. Left guard Laken Tomlinson was keeping Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones away from Garoppolo until Tomlinson’s poor hand placement shoved Jones’ arm into the air.
All Jones had to do was move it a little higher to bat Garoppolo’s pass into the turf.
The play failed, the Faithful groaned, and the clock only lost four seconds.
3rd and 5 at the SF 25 (5:23)
I am not surprised when Shanahan finds a good play and goes back to it immediately. He’s done it this season, flipping runs and passes around with the wave of a golden hand – and it’s worked.
Above is the standard look for Shanahan’s “Arches” play. You may recognize it from the 2018 season when Shanahan called “Arches” late in the game against the New York Giants.
Wide receiver Deebo Samuel ran what Shanahan calls an “Eliminator” route. I’ve seen this called a drag or drive route in some offenses.
Kittle ran another “Arches” route, which has a feel of an old “Texas” route from Bill Walsh’s offense. Shanahan uses a rounded pattern, while a “Texas” route tells the back to run at an angle to the right, and then slant left.
Garoppolo’s first two reads in an “Arches” play are the “Arch” and the “Eliminator” routes. He had no business looking at wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, as he is used to clear defenders from a particular space on the field.
Garoppolo never turned his head to look at Kittle or Samuel. He was fixed on Bourne for an unknown reason. There was no need to rush the throw either since Kittle had cleared his defender and was ready to run through a massive gap in the Chiefs’ coverage.
Garoppolo did throw to Bourne, and the pass hit the turf. The clock stopped, and the 49ers were forced to punt.
The drive took less than a minute off the clock, and Chiefs drove 65 yards for a touchdown.
I try not to be overly critical of NFL players or coordinators since I am a guy with few hobbies and no actual life skill using my evenings to breakdown NFL game film.
Kendrick Bourne should not be the main target when the Super Bowl is on the line. Shanahan designed the play for Kittle, and Garoppolo read it completely wrong.
My Friends, these three plays were the right calls at the time. The 49ers’ offense failed to execute flawlessly to make them successful.
The run alone does not win the game for the 49ers, but eleven men performing at their absolute best would have certainly put the odds squarely in favor of the good guys.
All images courtesy of NFL.com.
All statistics courtesy of the NFL Game Summary.
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