49ers Film Review; How San Francisco’s versatility was too much to overcome

The game plan created by Kyle Shanahan for Monday night’s game against the Los Angeles Rams was a master class in position less football. What made it so was the simplicity of it all, which was set up by the versatility of players such as Deebo Samuel, Kyle Juszczyk, and Jeff Wilson Jr.

During his Wednesday press conference, Kyle Shanahan was asked what this versatility can bring to the offense, “Just the threat and different matchups. Everything is personnel driven and who the matchups are,” said Shanahan. And it’s the same thing with how big of a deal it is having a fullback who can also go out there and play outside of the box. Like we have with Juice. And then when you have receivers who can go back to running back and receivers who don’t mind doing some stuff that a fullback would do, especially if you’re playing a receiver and you use them as a fullback, you might be going against a nickel as opposed to a linebacker. So, there’s all those different matchups you can do.”

Let’s look at how the 49ers were able take advantage of the mismatches they created on their way to a 31-10 victory.

First Two Plays

The first two offensive plays were a sign of what was to come. San Francisco sent out 11 personnel, one running back and one tight end, and Los Angeles responded by going with five defensive backs to counter. This would create a favorable matchup for the 49ers.

On the first play, a toss sweep to the right side, Kyle Shanahan used Deebo Samuel to motion across the formation and help tight end George Kittle kick out the defensive end on a toss sweep to the right side. This caught Los Angeles off guard due to the rarity that a team would use their top wide receiver in this manner, and this is often the job of Kyle Juszczyk.

Shanahan came right back with the same exact play call for the next snap, with a twist. This time the 49ers started in an empty shotgun formation before motioning Deebo Samuel into the backfield and Jimmy Garoppolo stepped up to take the snap from under center. Jeff Wilson Jr would help Kittle with the kick out block here and Samuel would pick up the first down.

Third Play

The deception by personnel would carry over to the third play of the game as well. Now in shotgun formation, still in 11 personnel with Wilson as the running back and Samuel as the wing on the left side, the Rams move to a more traditional nickel set.

Shanahan sends Jauan Jennings in motion across the formation to move the eyes of the defense. From there the 49ers would run their split belly zone to the left with Deebo Samuel coming across the formation to block the outside linebacker on the backside of the run.

The soft box created by the 49ers personnel helps carve the way for a five yard gain up the middle of the Rams defense.

Versatility of Juice

Two plays later, the versatility of Kyle Juszczyk begins to show. Facing 3rd and 5, Shanahan stays in 11 personnel, this time with Juszczyk as the running back. His protection allows Jimmy Garoppolo to find George Kittle open for the first down. This play is set up by forcing Leonard Floyd, one of the Rams best pass rushers into coverage on Kittle and the 49ers are able to exploit the mismatch.

A few plays later, we find Juszczyk lined up outside. The fullback is able to get across the face of the Rams linebacker and make a contested catch for a nice gain of six yards.


More Samuel and Wilson

As the 49ers 18-play opening drive wore on they continued to dictate personnel to the Rams.

With the Rams still using five defensive backs, the 49ers are able to use the same sweep they opened the drive with for a gain of eight yards. This looks different due to Garoppolo staying in shotgun instead of being under center, but the blocking up front remains the same. While Jeff Wilson Jr does a nice job of helping the tight end kick out the linebacker, look at left tackle Trent Williams putting the Rams defensive end on his back to help clear the way.

On the next play, Wilson and Samuel again switch roles. Having run the toss successfully several times on this possession, Shanahan goes back to his standard split belly zone. The change up here is instead of the normal handoff from the quarterback, they toss it to Wilson to make the play appear like the toss sweep even as Samuel crosses the formation to block.

A few plays later the first possession of the game comes to an end when Garoppolo finds Kittle in the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown.

Opening of Second Possession

On the first play of the 49ers second possession of the game, Shanahan goes back to the toss split belly zone play that worked so well on the previous drive. Although the 49ers are in 21 personnel, two backs and one tight end, and the Rams are in their base defense, the success of the toss plays on the opening possession cause the Los Angeles defenders to over pursue the play and Elijah Mitchell is able to take advantage for a gain of eight yards.

Rams decide to use base against 11 personnel

As the 49ers second possession moves along, the Rams eventually decide to stop trying to match personnel. On this play, San Francisco has their 11 personnel on the field against the Rams base defense. This should be able to shut down any 49ers run, however the backfield motion and success from earlier in the game leads the Rams linebacker on the left side of the 49ers offense to move outside. This opens a running lane in the middle of the offense and Elijah Mitchell is able to explode through for a gain of 13-yards.

Aiyuk and Samuel come through

Brandon Aiyuk was underutilized throughout the early part of the season; however, he has stepped up when his number has been called in recent weeks. On 2nd and 8 from the Rams 29, Jimmy Garoppolo finds the second-year receiver on a quick slant for a gain of 21.

This play is helped by Rams safety Taylor Rapp jumping the inside slant from Jauan Jennings which gives Aiyuk a free run once the ball gets to him.

On the next play, Shanahan gets Deebo Samuel into the backfield again for another run. This time it’s all about Samuel as he is able to get to the edge and beat the unblocked Rams defender to the edge and reach the end zone to give the 49ers a 21-7 halftime lead which Los Angeles would be unable to overcome.


This article has 9 Comments

  1. This is really great Jack. This film breakdown illustrates perfectly the genius of Kyle Shanahan. I really feel like Kyle has been off his game this year allowing defenses to dictate his play calling. In this one, he used alignment, personnel, and advantageous matchups to dictate the defensive game strategy. The other thing I noticed in these clips is the superior field vision of Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel. Wilson is a good runner but he doesn’t have that same level of field vision. Trey Sermon has all the talent in the world but he has inferior field vision and thats why he hasn’t been playing. I’m not sure if you can teach that or if that is just something guys are born with. I was super excited when the 9ers picked Sermon so I’m hoping he finds his way to some playing time when he improves in this offense.

  2. Lost in all the glory is the fact that Daniel Brunskill had another fantastic game against Aaron Donald. He’s now one of the few linemen around the league that has had consistent success blocking Donald. I don’t know if it’s the arm reach/length or what but Brunskill has looked good against Donald (and probably no one else) for multiple games.

    I’m hoping someone can do a play by play matchup focus like Grant did last year.

  3. Any idea why the 49ers waited so long to switch up snap count/cadence? That was a big part of the game plan that kept Rams on their heels until the 2nd half when they picked up on it.

    Teams are have been feasting on the outside tosses and it seems surprising they waited to long to make an adjustment.

  4. Can’t disagree with your analysis Jack, but I’m not sure how Kyle winning a chess match against Morris is a step towards turning around the team. The cat’s out of the bag now and the critical issue is still lingers – if teams sell out to stop our running attack can Kyle either anticipate it or make in game adjustments to defeat it. Based on the Cardinals game the answer is no. Based on the Rams game we don’t know. So predicting the future is still up in the air. One can declare their intention to be a run first or run heavy team but that does not mean they can pull it off if their opponents know how to play chess. Good teams must do both. As an aside, I am astounded that Morris didn’t learn anything from what the Cardinals did to us the previous week. Looked like a brain fart to me.

    1. Agree with all these points. I’m still nor convinced that being one-dimensional, no matter how dominating you are in the run game, can be a sustainable path to consistently winning. If you’re one dimensional as a run offense, all other areas of your team need to be top-notch. Top-Rated Defense, Solid Special Teams. Any of these crack and you’re on the losing end.

      One win does not turn around a team who has been bad now for more than half the entire season and has played well below their expectations. Let’s see how they do for the rest of the schedule.

      Luckily there’s still a chance to snag a wild card and it’s within reach.

  5. Yes, Kyle is a great game planner, play caller and recognized as such by the most in the league. He was the same coach against Arizona as he was against the Rams. The difference was the players. Against Arizona, we had dropped passes, 2 fumbles, poor tackling etc and against the Rams we had almost none of that. Kyle doesn’t become a genius one game and an idiot the next. The difference is always execution by the players. Let’s hope they stay focused the rest of the way and we make the playoffs.

    1. Who is ultimately in charge and accountable for this collective focus and execution?

      When it’s one player, you get rid of the player or play his backup.

      When it’s a number of players on both sides of the ball?

    2. And if KS was only the OC, then fine. But he is the HC; his job description goes far beyond just scheming up offensive game plans.

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