The 49ers’ rushing attack has done most of the damage for their offense this postseason. That just means their passing game is due for some big plays in the Super Bowl, likely off of play-action. San Francisco was arguably the best play-action team in the NFL this season, and Kyle Shanahan’s ability to design plays that create huge voids in the secondary is a significant reason why. The below play against the Saints is a perfect example.
This was 1st-and-10, a great time to call play-action. The run fake to the right caused Saints linebacker Craig Robertson to step up in response.
But that wasn’t enough to make this play work. As part of the design, Shanahan had fullback Kyle Juszczyk sneak through the line and run an out to the flat. This held Robertson, preventing him from turning and sprinting to hunt up any receivers at the intermediate level on what was play-action designed to target the zone behind him.
The inside receiver to the right of the formation, Emmanuel Sanders, ran an in-breaking route. His stem took him upfield just enough to make the safety to that side, who was responsible for the #2 inside vertical route, gain depth and start locking onto Sanders. He would end up turning his hips inside to follow the route.
With the underneath linebacker sucked up to the line of scrimmage, and the deep safety occupied by the inside vertical route, the middle was open. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel did an excellent job of widening the outside corner to ensure he had leverage inside. The design of the play created a huge void for Jimmy Garoppolo to exploit.
The Chiefs will need to be wary of San Francisco’s play-action attack. This means their linebackers and safeties in the underneath zones need to be ready to hunt up routes behind them off of play-fakes. It means their deep safeties have to be ready for shot plays that can change the course of the game.
With all the attention their running game is likely to get on Sunday, don’t be surprised to see Shanahan get a big play or two through the air to George Kittle or the 49ers’ speedy receivers off of play-action.
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