For the opening 29 minutes of the 49ers' Monday Night tilt against the Rams, Greg Roman's offense was sputtering. The Rams crowded the line of scrimmage limiting the run game, Vance McDonald fumbled and Austin Davis put together a few sustained drives.
It was a frustrating mix for the 49ers and they found themselves trailing by 11 with under a minute left in the first half. But just as the 49ers looked to be headed into the locker room trailing by two scores in a game they simply couldn't afford to lose, they got the break they needed. For some reason the Rams got cute with their coverage and Janoris Jenkins got burned on a Brandon Lloyd double move for an 80 yard touchdown.
It was the turning point in the game and the 49ers offense kept the momentum going after halftime, scoring touchdowns on two of their next three drives. It was an impressive display that highlighted the 49ers explosive potential on offense.
Lloyd's 80 Yard Double Move
With less than 30 seconds left in the first half and the 49ers on their own 20 yard line, all the Rams defense had to do was prevent a big play. Nothing special, just don't get beat deep. But defensive coordinator Greg Williams got a tad cute with his coverage and one misstep by Janoris Jenkins resulted in a game changing play.
Let's look at how the 49ers punished the Rams defense for taking an unnecessary risk.
Game Situation: 3rd Quarter, 10:07, 3rd and 6 at the SF 20, Rams 14, 49ers 3
Offensive Personnel: 3 WR (Brandon Lloyd, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson) 1 TE (Vernon Davis) 1 RB (Carlos Hyde)
Formation: Shotgun Closed Slot Right
Offensive Concept: Stop N Go
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2 Buzz
By showing a Tampa 2 defense pre-snap and then bringing the safeties down after the snap, the Rams are trying to bait Colin Kaepernick into a throw underneath/down the middle. Why is beyond me.
The main thing I don't get is why the Rams put their corners into essentially one on one coverage on any deep route down the sideline with no help over the top when that was the one thing that could hurt them. It seems like a more traditional Cover 2 where the deep zones-which are the safeties-have a larger cushion against deep routes or Man 2 would have been a safer and ultimately better call for the situation.
Regardless of what the thinking is behind the coverage, it places a lot responsibility on Jenkins on the outside as the deep defender against Lloyd's stop ‘n go. Jenkins blows the coverage as he bites on the stutter step allowing Lloyd to blow by him.
Kaepernick takes full advantage of Jenkins' misstep and accurately hits Lloyd in stride for an 80 yard score that jump started the 49ers offense. For the 49ers team that hasn't had a real deep threat in years, it was a surprising play and more evidence that signing Brandon Lloyd-which seems pointless at the time due to the depth at receiver-was another shrewd move by GM Trent Baalke.
Kaepernick's Incredible Throw
The big play right before the half clearly energized a sluggish 49ers offense and they came out of halftime ready to go. They received the second half kickoff and put together 12 play, five minute, 80 yard drive that gave the 49ers the lead-the Rams went from being up 10 to down three without having a meaningful offensive snap.
Let's examine the All-22 tape to see how the 49ers capped off their drive with a broken play saved by Kaepernick's unique athleticism.
Game Situation: 3rd Quarter, 10:07, 3rd and 6 at the SF 20, Rams 14, 49ers 3
Offensive Personnel: 1 WR (Anquan Boldin) 1 TE (Vernon Davis) 2 RB (Carlos Hyde, Bruce Miller)
Formation: Unbalance Double TE Offset Strong
Offensive Concept: Scramble Routine
Defensive Scheme: Man/Zone Hybrid
Leave it to Greg Roman to dial up an unbalanced offensive line where the eligible left tackle leaks out. It was a beautifully design play but Robert Quinn's blatant defensive holding on Joe Staley blew up the only real option. It is worth noting thought that the refs caught the infringement and threw the flag, so it was always going to be a 49ers first down.
With his main option compromised Kaepernick had to improvise, which is something he excels at due to his speed, arm strength and comfort outside of the pocket. Anquan Boldin saw his quarterback in trouble scrambling left and doubled back on his crossing route to give Kaepernick a option downfield.
Kaepernick saw his veteran receiver angling towards the back line-again Janoris Jenkins was at fault defensively-and attempted an audacious throw. The distance wasn't astronomical and their was some wiggle room in terms of ball placement but Kaepernick was rolling left and attempting to throw a 30 yard ball downfield.
Once again Kaepernick amazed us all by powering the football 30-ish yards over Jenkins' outstretched hands to hit Boldin in the back of the end zone. It was an incredible throw that defied the age old rule of throwing across your body and more evidence that the play is never dead when Kaepernick has the ball.
Crabtree's Triple Move
Later in the 3rd quarter the 49ers got the ball back still hanging onto their slim three point lead. The 49ers defense had found their rhythm against Austin Davis and the 49ers offense knew a touchdown to make it a two score margin would more or less end the game. It was a chance for the 49ers offense to make a statement and take firm control of the game.
Let's look at how they did just that with a classic west coast ‘dino' route.
Game Situation: 3rd Quarter, 0:28, 2nd and 8 at the SF 20, Rams 14, 49ers 3
Offensive Personnel: 2 WR (Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin) 1 TE (Vernon Davis) 1 RB (Carlos Hyde, Bruce Miller)
Formation: Offset Weak
Offensive Concept: Dino
Defensive Scheme: Man 0
With the inward breaking triple move on the outside Kaepernick had to be licking his lips seeing the Rams in Man 0 coverage. Better yet he had a 6th round rookie E.J. Gaines matched up one on one with Crabtree.
All the 49ers had to do was give Kaepernick and Crabtree enough time to execute the long developing route. The offensive line and running backs did just that picking up the inside cross blitz and Crabtree went to work on the rookie.
Watching the match up on the outside it is almost sad. Gaines thought he had withstood a post-corner and was in good position only to see Crabtree break back inside. With no help in the middle of the field the rookie corner and the Rams were done.
The 49ers Offense Wakes Up
Against the Rams the 49ers put together their best offensive performance of the year. They had a slow start but found their rhythm after Lloyd's big play right before halftime. The Rams defensive strategy was clear as they stuffed the 49ers power running game with heavy defensive fronts and challenged the 49ers passing game.
While the 49ers eventually found some success running the ball out of 11 personnel-one tight end and one running back-with spilt zone runs-the offensive line zone blocked one direction and Davis came underneath to kick out the defensive end to open up a lane up the middle-the story of the night was Kaepernick and the passing offense exploiting the Rams pass defense.
Throwing for over 350 yards Kaepernick and his receivers sliced up the Rams-especially when they showed pressure as he went 5 of 9 for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns-and showed a level of execution that had been missing in the first five weeks.
With numerous quality weapons on the outside in Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd-who provides the deep threat the 49ers offense has been sorely missing-, a big play tight end in Vernon Davis and one of the more physical rushing attacks in the NFL the 49ers are loaded offensively.
They are head and shoulders more talented than any other in the Harbaugh era-I would say the most talented since the Jeff Garcia/TO years in the early 2000s. For instance, Vernon Davis played like absolute crap Monday Night and the 49ers still put up 24 points offensively. It is simply about putting it all together and executing week in and week out.
Despite the talent, the 49ers will still have to grind out victories and will struggle at times this season. But they have the potential to be complete offense that can hurt teams in a variety of ways with numerous players-something that hasn't been the case in seasons past.
But the most important development that gives the 49ers offense it's high ceiling is the continued development of Kaepernick. He is slowly but surely become comfortable and consistent in the pocket. It shows as Kaepernick has been anticipating throws. keeping his eyes downfield and getting to his second and even third read instead of forcing a scramble.
Sprinkle in some of the special plays he is bound to make with his incredible athleticism and it is easy to see how the 49ers could be very dangerous offense as the season progresses.