Beating the Man: Game Planning the 49ers Win Against the Packers
Image Credit: 49ers
During the 2021 season, there was a point that did not have the San Francisco 49ers making a playoff run. Months ago, they were a team that could not find a way around its painfully slow starts and repeated mental errors.
But all that is a thing of the past. The 49ers found a way to get themselves stuffed on grit, winning seven of their last nine games to close the regular season.
Fast forward to last week, and the 49ers won the wild card game against the Dallas Cowboys, despite the wheels nearly coming off late in the contest.
This week's divisional match-up sends the 49ers to Green Bay to face the number one seed in the NFC playoff tournament.
The 49ers feel like regular opponents of the Packers and certainly had their share of visits to Green Bay. The 49ers first faced the Packers as early as 1950 and have won 6 of 12 games dating back to November 22, 2009. Three of those wins were playoff victories.
The Packers were a buzzsaw this season, and while they make a formidable opponent, they are a beatable football team.
Here's what the 49ers' offense will need to do to leave frigid Green Bay with a victory.
Pound the Ground
As I noted in my post-game review of the Week 3 loss, the 49ers' interior offensive line, namely center Alex Mack and right guard Daniel Brunskill, struggled against the Packers' defensive line. Running inside was not an option for the 49ers.
This week's key is a run game that uses counters and misdirection, avoiding the interior and getting 49er running backs inside and outside the tackles.
During the regular season, the 49ers' tackles, Tom Compton, Trent Williams, Mike McGlinchey, and Colton McKivitz, were responsible for 1,175 rush yards this year on 245 attempts – that's 49 percent of the ground attack if your calculator isn't in reach. Additionally, 49er running backs gained almost five yards per attempt when running around either edge or over right or left tackle.
Wildcard: 1st Quarter – 2nd and 6 at the DAL 43 (8:09)
"16/17 F Stutter" is a counter play that attacks inside-to-off tackle on the weak side of the formation.
The play has a real power run feel, but instead of the fullback making the first block on the end man, the pulling guard takes care of him. Also, the play attacks weak, while a power run attacks the strong side.
The fullback heads toward the inside leg of the tackle and blocks the first linebacker in the box.
Shanahan called "17 F Stutter" on the 49ers' second possession of the game. Watch Brunskill pull left and fold defensive end Tarell Basham, while fullback Kyle Juszczyk followed through the hole to take on linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
Running back Elijah Mitchell took a slight step to his right, ran downhill, and followed his fullback through the hole for a nine-yard gain.
The strongside counter run looks similar but could add in a sift block from Juszczyk for extra confusion.
Week 17: 4th Quarter – 1st & 10 at the HOU 43 (3:52)
Misdirection will be a significant key to success on Saturday, but if the 49ers' guards and center start to control the interior, look for Shanahan to call 14/15 Weak.
If you have your high school or junior college playbook available, dig it out of the closet and compare your iso or lead runs to Shanahan's 14/15 Weak. I vaguely remember a similar play explained on a Sports Illustrated "Inside the Huddle" videotape from the 1980s.
Shanahan's version has the line declare the Mike linebacker and then use inside zone blocking to clear a lane for the back.
The fullback's job is to take a direct course off the inside leg of the play side tackle to the Will linebacker and crush him into the turf. He might attack the free safety on specific defensive fronts.
Shanahan destroyed Houston with the weakside run, with Mitchell capping off his day with a 37-yard run with just under four minutes left in the contest.
Earlier, Mitchell gained 10 yards on the same play with 3:44 left in the third quarter. Shanahan added a sift block to the play. "Sift" instructs the tight end to cut back against the flow of the play and block the end man on the line of scrimmage.
Here is a fun fact courtesy of the 49ers’ communications team: In Shanahan's four playoff games as 49ers' head coach, his team averages 195.3 rushing yards per game.
A Minimal Passing Game
I have no insight into Garoppolo's injured thumb and shoulder, but I highly doubt Shanahan will call more than 15 passes on Saturday. If so, expect a quick, rhythmic drop-back game with a high reliance on the movement play-action series.
Wild card: 1st Quarter – 2nd and 9 at the SF 40 (13:43)
Shanahan called a movement play on the opening possession for the 49ers, and Garoppolo found wide receiver Travis Benjamin for 17 yards.
The movement series dovetails nicely with inside and outside zone runs. The offensive line sells the outside zone plays, which head toward the 8 or 9 holes. After a fake toss or handoff, the quarterback gains depth on a bootleg to the left or right. At that point, his reads are usually stacked vertically from deep to short.
Wide receiver Trent Sherfield ran the deep route on the play above, Benjamin ran a shallow cross, and tight end Charlie Woerner ran a late down-flat route.
Garoppolo had a clear line of sight to settle and drop a pass to Benjamin for a significant gain.
The 49ers’ offense cannot afford to start slow and find themselves in a hole. Ending drives with six points is preferred, but I would not care if a drive or three ended up with a field goal. The goal should be points on the board throughout the contest.
All images courtesy of NFL.com.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
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