The 49ers’ rushing attack is arguably the league’s most versatile. It can win with speed, it can win with power. It’s based predominantly off of zone concepts. Yet, it mixes in a healthy dose of gap runs like power and counter, which we anticipate the 49ers using to attack Kansas City’s interior defensive line. However, Kyle Shanahan’s use of motion and misdirection might be the biggest reason their ground game is so difficult to defend.
Sometimes, the effect is subtle. The below play against the Saints was a weak-side outside zone to the right with fake jet-sweep action to the left. Watch how the circled play-side defender, who happened to be a cornerback, stepped inside in response to the jet-sweep action. This allowed right guard Mike Person (#68) to get outside of him, opening up a running lane on the outside for Raheem Mostert.
Against the Vikings in the Divisional Round, Shanahan was able to use motion and misdirection to dictate which defenders would be in the box defending the run.
Watch as wide receiver Kendrick Bourne (#84) motioned from left to right across the formation. This created a 3×1 alignment. The Vikings had the safety over Bourne (Andrew Sendejo) follow him to get more defensive backs to the 3-receiver side. The strong-side linebacker traded places with Sendejo.
But Bourne quickly changed directions and sprinted back in motion to the left behind Jimmy Garoppolo. Instead of shifting back in response, Sendejo stayed where he was, and the linebacker to the weak side kicked out to account for Bourne’s motion. The 49ers often use this type of motion right before the snap, so Minnesota likely wanted to keep their defenders in position to avoid any confusion there might have been if they tried to shift again.
Ultimately, the motion left the Vikings with just 6 men in the box and it forced them to replace a linebacker inside with a safety. The 49ers then ran power right at him.
If you love football, you have to love this play. Awesome design by Shanahan.
Of course, the motion and misdirection isn’t just used to open up lanes for 49ers running backs. Shanahan loves to get his receivers involved in the running game as well.
Look how he set up the below 32-yard end-around to Deebo Samuel in the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. Between the initial action of the running back, fullback and right guard, the 49ers looked to be running counter to their left. You can see the defenders who were influenced in response.
Those defenders would be pinned inside, creating huge running lanes on the edge. Keep your eyes on fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who took two initial steps to his left to sell the run before bending it back in the other direction.
Great design and a great tendency breaker too.
So how do you stop the 49ers running game? It comes down to winning at the line of scrimmage, like the Seahawks were able to do in their Week 10 victory over the Niners. This helps stop San Francisco’s core stuff first. These are the runs that sustain the offense play after play, including their outside zone and power/counter plays.
As you can see on the below outside zone, the Seahawks were able to penetrate and play on the other side of the line of scrimmage to stop this run in its tracks.
On the below counter to the left, the pulling right guard was responsible for kicking out defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (#90). This is a key block on this play as it helps to seal off the outside to create the running lane. Clowney was able to squeeze down the line and collapse that running lane, though.
Obviously, it helps to have Jadeveon Clowney. Chiefs defensive ends will have to do their best to emulate his performance on Super Bowl Sunday.
The 49ers’ rushing attack throws the kitchen sink at opposing defenses. Not only do they have great scheme, execution, and a tight end in George Kittle who loves finishing his blocks, they have a playcaller in Kyle Shanahan who seems to have the ability to dial up the right call at the right time. The Chiefs will have their work cut out for them.
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