Once, Twice, Three Times a Loser: How the 49ers Offense Can Ram the Door on LA's Super Bowl Shot
Image Credit: 49ers
The rivalry between the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams is legendary but has become overlooked in the last twenty years.
Each time the 49ers and Rams play one another, I feel a rekindling of my deep loathing for the Rams. I remember those fleeting years in the early 1990s the Rams were good and would threaten to sully the NFL with playoff wins.
And I won't forget the five fraudulent years when the Rams finally put together a team to win a Super Bowl. Whatever higher power that may or may not have a hand in human affairs had its back turned when the Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV. Because nobody, not even an ever-loving deity, likes the Rams.
The 49ers' offense is well-aware of where the soft spots are in the Rams' defense. Shanahan might put new twists on plays, but he's going to stick with what's worked best at this point in the season.
Here are a few ideas for the 49ers' for the NFC Championship Game.
Staple Runs and Their Opposite
We all know Shanahan's run game is based on inside and outside zone runs. Some of these, such as "Wanda" or "Zorro," are run plays attacking the permitter of the formation, strong or weak, with the offensive line using outside zone techniques to clear running lanes.
Week 12: 2nd Quarter – 2nd and 6 at the SF 44 (5:16)
"Wanda" and "Zorro" are going to gain yards, but at some point, the Rams' defense is going to get wise. When that happens, it's time to call "14/15 Arc Bend," which flows strong and cuts back to the weak side.
"Arc Bend" is an older play in Shanahan's book, dating back to his time in Washington, if not further. The fullback sells the strong run with his first three steps (the arc), then cuts back to block the end man on the line of scrimmage (the bend).
The running back follows suit, and the offensive line sells a strong side zone run. These three factors, the fullback, the running back, and the line, will catch the Rams sleeping for a significant gain.
Counter and Sift Runs
All-Pro receiver Deebo Samuel has been a massive injection of creativity for Shanahan and the 49ers' offense. The opposing defense cannot predict how Samuel will be used on the play – as a back, on a quick screen, shovel pass, or as a decoy.
I've liked Samuel on the counter and sift runs, much like he ran to open the wild card game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Wild card: 1st Quarter – 1st & 5 at the SF 30
The 49ers' offense started the wild card game with a first-and-5 situation at their 30-yard line. Garoppolo broke the huddle, and the offense lined up in a "Strong Left Slot" formation. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk motioned from strong to weak, and Garoppolo took the snap from center Alex Mack.
It felt as if Juszczyk and Samuel would flow weak side along with their offensive line for a brief second. But Juszczyk snapped back against the grain to take out the end man on the line of scrimmage while Samuel read the gaps before shooting between the left guard and tackle.
These inside zone tosses, some of which sprinkle in sift blocks, confused the Dallas linebackers, and took advantage of their feeble interior.
If the 49ers' offensive line can seal off Aaron Donald and A'Shawn Robinson, the sift motion might bait linebacker Troy Reeder into over-pursuing his responsibility. That error would leave a massive hole in the secondary for Samuel to run through.
The Short Passing Game
I am certainly glad the 49ers' receivers will not have to deal with frozen hands and an icy football this Sunday.
Before Shanahan gets to his intermediate and deep passing game, he'll need to get Garoppolo into a rhythm throwing the ball. I have no issue with Garoppolo hitting Samuel or tight end George Kittle on a quick slant and letting the receiver gain 15 or 20 yards after the catch.
Week 17: 2nd Quarter – 1st and 10 at the SF 25 (0:38)
I've written about "Dragon Lion" a few times, but against Houston, Shanahan called a different version – "Patriot Lion" – which gained 17 yards.
The two slant routes at the top of the formation are "Lion," while the route combination with the three receivers looked like "Patriot."
I love slant routes as a 49er fan from the 1980s. There's nothing more pleasing than seeing a receiver catch a quick pass in stride and make his way through the defense for a big gain.
On the strong side, the receivers the following routes (from outside-in): Thunder, Seam, Patriot-Stick.
"Thunder" is a simple route, which you probably ran in high school. The receiver runs 6 yards and turns around. He can turn the route upfield against cloud coverage.
The seam route on the play is an alert for the quarterback. Garoppolo could hit that receiver if the defense leaves a notable gap in coverage.
"Patriot-Stick" has the receiver stop at 6 yards and then break outside. A typical stick route does not have the receiver stop but quickly come out of the break and expect the ball.
I'd like to see this play or "Dragon-Lion" on the first or second series of the game. And hopefully, the climate-controlled weather will help Garoppolo when he wants to take a deeper shot downfield.
Above all, the 49ers' offense needs to play a near-perfect game that chews the clock and results in points. These types of drives have given the Rams' defense fits and toddler-like tantrums when they cannot get off the field.
What will help is Shanahan scripting a consistent, steady dose of surprise. And hopefully, that results in the 49ers advancing to the Super Bowl.
All images courtesy of NFL.com.
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