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.
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.