Solo Offensive Weapon: How The 49ers Can Manage with Deebo Missing Time
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The San Francisco 49ers’ offense has been incredible the past three weeks. A large part of the increased scoring and offensive output in general has coincided with head coach Kyle Shanahan using wide receiver Deebo Samuel as a more position-less offensive weapon. Shanahan has been lining him up everywhere on the field the past three weeks. The emphasis of getting the ball into Samuel’s hands isn’t new; he’s been the team’s best offensive player all season. The creativity and use of Samuel’s skill set has been the difference.
Watching Samuel play the hybrid WR-RB position better than anyone since Eric Metcalf did it in the 1990s, one has to wonder what Shanahan will have up his sleeve now that Samuel is shelved for a couple weeks with a groin injury. There is no none else on the roster like Samuel, so a direct insertion into the lineup, or next man up, mentality isn’t going to cut it. There isn’t another Deebo. This is where Shanahan’s creative genius is going to have to catch the league off guard again. Samuel caught only one pass last week, but scored two touchdowns and accounted for nearly 100 yards of offense. That is what Shanahan has to replace –the offensive output, not the specific play types.
It’s easy to assume that the role Samuel has played the last three games is the role Shanahan envisioned for the since-released Jalen Hurd. This offense would have been so beautiful if Hurd, Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk could have reached the field together,but that’s another article.
Let’s take a look at some ways Shanahan might use his offensive pieces to make up for Samuel’s lost offensive explosiveness.
Aiyuk has done well the past few weeks after having a very slow start to the season. He will be the team’s WR1, but he won’t be used like Samuel was. Aiyuk doesn’t have the size to line up in the backfield, so I would suspect Shanahan to use more wide receiver screens and stop routes with Aiyuk to help improve the run attack. Aiyuk’s elusiveness could be well used in the screen game, especially if you can get big-bodied skill players like Jennings and tight end George Kittle out in front of him to block.
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With Aiyuk taking over Samuel’s WR1 role,Jennings has moved up to WR2. Jennings is big and is showing that he has the hands to be a big time playmaker. His size might allow him to run some of the plays out of the backfield that Samuel ran, or at least a jet sweep here or there. I imagine, though, Jennings will primarily take over some of the crossing routes Samuel was so effective with. Samuel hasn’t been a big red zone target, earning most of his touchdowns by breaking long runs after contact, but Jennings’ size and catch radius says that he will be a big red zone target.
Kittle has the size but not the speed to make up for Samuel’s run game prowess. I would expect to see some more quick outs and tight end screens again this Sunday. Kittle should see more targets in general. Most people say he could see more targets every game, but with Samuel gone, he definitely needs to see the ball come his way more often.
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Let’s be honest, Samuel was playing WR1 and RB2 at the same time. I would expect rookie sensation Elijah Mitchell and the backup, Jeff Wilson Jr., to pick up a few more touches to make up for the lack of Samuel in the run game. Shanahan must be planning on getting the two of them 40 combined touches in their game Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. JWJ doesn’t have Samuel’s physicality. Let’s be honest, not many players do. He does have decent field vision and has shown an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Without Samuel, we should expect his touches to go up a little bit too.
The Samuel injury is sad to see because we could see the players and coaches having fun again. The swagger and smiles were back. Partly because they had gone back to being a physically dominant team on the field, and a bunch of firecrackers off of it. Shanahan won’t completely get rid of his game plan; he will just simply adjust it. Expect more screen passes, and possibly a few more play action passes. The run plays won’t change, but it will be Mitchell and Wilson running that outside zone toss instead of Samuel.
It is always Shanahan’s plan to out physical his opponent. This week he will probably take that to an extreme. He’s shooting for 40 minutes of ball possession and 40 plus run plays. Seattle’s defense is the perfect group of defenders to do it against. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo may have Brian Griese-type stat line while the 49ers run over the Seahawks’ defense over and over again. The most entertaining part will be the highlights of Kittle or left tackle Trent Williams pancaking Seahawks safety Jamal Adams at some point during the game.
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