With another 100 yard rushing performance from Frank Gore the 49ers outlasted the Chiefs in Santa Clara on Sunday. The win was huge for multiple reasons but the biggest was the 49ers return to their power football style that utilizes their biggest strengths, their offensive line's run blocking and Greg Roman's creative run game. Here is the All-22 tape breakdown to show exactly how the 49ers gashed the Chiefs with a smart and powerful rushing attack.
Since dropping to 1-2 after a pair of brutal loses the 49ers have returned to form by beating the Eagles and Chiefs at Levi's Stadium. The wins are vital in the hyper competitive NFC and have the 49ers sitting in the middle of a crowded playoff pack after five weeks.
More importantly the two wins have seemingly helped the 49ers rediscover their identity as a power football team. The results have been drastic as the 49ers have nearly doubled their rushing yards per game-162.5 to 87-in their past two games. (That statistic doesn't include quarterback scrambles)
The change has also given the 49ers offense the rhythm it sorely lacked during the rough 1-2 start. In addition, the return to a run heavy attack has taken some of the offensive burden off Kaepernick's shoulders and put it back on the 49ers strengths, Frank Gore and the offensive line.
Despite some dismal moments from the offensive line so far this season the 49ers strength is still up front in the trenches. While they have been a poor in pass protection this season individually and as a whole-the 49ers are the eighth worst pass blocking team according to Pro Football Focus-they are still an elite run blocking unit-the 49ers rank second in run blocking as a team according to Pro Football Focus.
They aren't at the level of the 2011-13 team that was clearly the best in the NFL but they demonstrated their effectiveness against the Chiefs as Frank Gore average 4.8 yards before contact. That amazing number in a stat that highlights the offensive line's effectiveness is proof that the big guys up front controlled the Chiefs.
But enough with the stats and talk, lets look at the All-22 tape to see how the 49ers rushing attack-primarily down the middle and to the left side-fueled their second victory in as many weeks.
Guard Tackle Weak Side Trap Run
One of the staples of the 49ers rushing attack since Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman arrived four years ago has been utilization of a multitude of blocking schemes and techniques. The complexity and variability of the 49ers rushing attack has been a major reason why the 49ers have been so dominant running the ball in recent years.
Roman and Harbaugh have installed every trick in the book-from wham plays to jumbo packages and basic dive plays-in order to create blocking advantages both numerical and from a leverage perspective. Let's look an example of how a trap block on the weak side sprung Frank Gore into the secondary untouched.
Game Situation: 1st Quarter, 6:16, 1st and 10 at the KC 30, 49ers 0, Chiefs 7
Offensive Personnel: 2 WR (Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin) 1 TE (Vance McDonald) 2 RB (Frank Gore, Bruce Miller)
Formation: 3 Wide Slot Right I Formation
Offensive Concept: Weak side G/T Trap
Defensive Scheme: 7 Man Front
The play starts with the 49ers in a four wide pistol set. They quickly shift into a three wide I formation with McDonald motioning inside at the snap. While the shift doesn't cause mass confusion, it does test the Chiefs preparation and ability to match the 49ers.
The more important aspect of the formation is the 49ers are running towards the weak side away from the motioning McDonald. The weak side run gives the 49ers equal numbers at the point of attack (POA) with the RG, C, LG, LT and FB assigned to block the NT, DE, OLB and two ILB-‘Mike' ILB #90 and ‘Will' ILB #52.
With the numerical advantage, the 49ers simply need to execute the two critical blocks to pick up a chunk of yardage on the ground. The first block is the G/T trap block that works to perfection as Staley crashes down on the DE and Ipuati kicks out the OLB. What makes the trap block effective is the element of surprise and the great blocking angles-Ipuati is pushing the OLB wide while Staley is pinning the DE inside creating a huge hole in between them.
The other key block is Kilgore reaching out to the ‘Mike' LB while Boone takes the NT. The NT slants left taking himself out of the play. That allows Kilgore to reach the second level untouched and seal off the ‘Mike' LB.
With Miller meeting the ‘Will' LB in the hole and winning that battle there are gaps either side of the block for Gore to squeeze through. The crafty 10 year vet wisely choose the outside hole and squirts into the secondary for an easy 12 yard gain.
Stretch Zone/ Cut Back
Known primarily as a power running team that utilizes pulling guards, man blocking schemes and heavy alignments with a fullback, the 49ers don't often run zone runs. But against the Kansas City the 49ers pull off a deceptive stretch zone run that caught the Chiefs off guard.
Let's look at the All-22 tape to see a stretch zone run with a cut back option that almost turned into a huge play.
Game Situation: 3rd Quarter, 14:51, 2nd and 10 at the SF 321, 49ers 13, Chiefs 10
Offensive Personnel: 2 WR (Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin) 2 TE (Vance McDonald, Derrick Carrier) 1 RB ( Bruce Miller)
Formation: Offset Weak TE Left
Offensive Concept: Zone Stretch/Cut Back
Defensive Scheme: 8 Man Front
The zone scheme is quite simple, at least in principal as the entire offensive line moves laterally at the snap. The goal is to stretch the defense horizontally instead of creating a specific hole like a man blocking scheme. The running back simply runs East-West before cutting up field through a gap of their choice.
You can see the left side of the 49ers offensive line and McDonald executing this blocking scheme at the snap. That aspect of the play looks like a traditional zone stretch play from the Terrell Davis' Broncos of the late 90s or a MarShawn Lynch-Russell Wilson zone read.
But the backside is slightly different. First off, Carrier motioned into the backfield as an offset weak side fullback meaning he really isn't in a position to lead the play or help on a stretch run to the strong side.
That combined with the right side of the offensive line that is man blocking their defenders to prevent pursuit-instead of flowing left like a traditional zone run-leads me to believe his play might have been designed to be cut back up the middle-or it was a clear Option 1B. A zone stretch counter of sorts. (I am far from positive on this and it could have been a normal zone stretch play that was just cut up field into a massive hole.)
Whether it was designed or not, the cutback lane is massive and both Carrier and Gore spot it-which is impressive from Carrier if it wasn't planned as he is a WR/TE hybrid out of position as a FB. It was the right decision too as 49ers were outnumbered five to four on the zone stretch.
Carrier sealed off the safety and created a crease right down the middle. Gore gets North-South trying to break through but the NT and ‘Will' LB crash down and get enough of him to prevent a big play.
The next running play the 49ers threw at the Chiefs was the old school power sweep. It was a staple play back in the day but it is relatively rare these days as teams use zone stretches, jet sweeps and zone reads out of spread formations to attack the edge of a defense.
Let's look at the tape to see how the 49ers lined up in a heavy set and simply outmuscled the Chiefs on a power sweep.
Game Situation: 2nd Quarter, 6:24, 1st and 10 at the SF 18, 49ers g, Chiefs 10
Offensive Personnel: 2 WR (Anquan Boldin) 2 TE (Vance McDonald, Derrick Carrier) 2 RB (Frank Gore, Bruce Miller)
Formation: Two TE I Formation Strong Right
Offensive Concept: Power Sweep
Defensive Scheme: 7 Man Front
After this play the CBS commentary crew stated how rare it is in today's NFL to line up in a heavy set and run directly behind it. There was no misdirection to create hesitation or spread formation to stretch the defense, instead the 49ers gave a strong run right look and out executed the Chiefs.
The critical block on this play is the double team at the POA with both Carrier and McDonald moving the play side OLB back multiple yards. That push allows the lead duo of Miller and Boone to turn up field early and engage their defenders on the outside multiple yards past the line of scrimmage. If the 49ers had lost at the POA and the OLB had set the edge, the play would have likely been stretched horizontally for little to no gain.
But the Chiefs were unable to do that and the lead blocking duo crushed the two defenders on the outside. That combined with the ‘Will' LB getting stuck in traffic allowed Gore to turn the corner untouched for an easy six yards. Only the safety crashing down prevents Gore from another big gain.
Raw Power Moves
Up two points in the fourth quarter the 49ers got the ball back with slightly over seven minutes remaining. They put together a classic Harbaugh era 49er drive by pounding the Chiefs with a downhill run game that ate over five minutes off the clock and all of the Chiefs timeouts.
There weren't any pre snap shifts, trap blocks or cut backs, instead the 49ers lined up and simply overwhelmed the Chiefs defensive front to more or less end the game.
Let's look at a simple FB lead run that highlighted how good the 49ers offensive line can be when utilized correctly.
Game Situation: 4th Quarter, 3:31, 1st and 10 at the KC 20, 49ers 19, Chiefs 17
Offensive Personnel: 1 WR (Anquan Boldin) 2 TE (Vance McDonald, Derrick Carrier) 2 RB (Carlos Hyde, Bruce Miller)
Formation: Two TE I Formation
Offensive Concept: FB Lead
Defensive Scheme: 9 Man Front
When an offense can line up in a double TE formation and pound a defense up the middle for 11 yards the offensive line is clearly winning the battle in the trenches. There is nothing fancy about this run just one on one blocking matchups across the board-Ipuati kind of double teams the DE but Staley does such a good job Ipuati more or less fires directly into the second level.
The 49ers win the battles up front-especially Staley and Ipuati-and a huge hole in the left ‘A' gap opens up for Hyde to attack. He powers through the hole taking advantage of former 49ers Marcus Cooper's reluctance to crash down and gets five yards downfield before he is contacted. Hyde's leg drive and power churn out another six yards giving the 49ers another first down, which eats precious time off the clock.
These types of drives have been a staple of the Jim Harbaugh era. Countless times the 49ers have gotten control of the ball in the second half and churned out a long drive that essentially ends the game. It was refreshing to see the 49ers do that once again, although the Chiefs were responsible for extending the drive with a terrible 12 men on the field penalty on fourth and four.
In his post game press conference Frank Gore was asked what it meant for his team to rush for nearly 150 yards and be able to put together that long fourth quarter drive. His response was another Frank classic as he bluntly stated, "We dogs".
Not only was it a super bad ass thing to say it was true. The 49ers won this game with their physicality up front. It was a very 2011 49eresque performance. The defense was solid, making the opponent work for everything and convert a lot of short third downs. The offense simply ground down the Chiefs with a running game that combined the 49ers brute strength with creative play design to overwhelm a very good Chief front seven.
Impressively, the 49ers did it running almost exclusively up the middle and to the left side. It was an understandable decision given the right sides struggles-Martin is clearly a back up at best and Boone has struggled after his holdout.
More importantly the balanced offense-the 49ers ran the ball 32 times to their 33 pass attempts excluding quarterback scrambles and kneel downs-got back to the 49ers strengths, their offensive line and Frank Gore.
It was similar to what happened last season after the 49ers fell to 1-2 early. Both times when the 49ers faced adversity they returned to their roots as a power football team, grinding teams down with their size and power up front. It isn't always pretty and many including myself have suggested that bringing in spread elements would help jumpstart the 49ers offense.
But those opinions overlooked one thing, the 49ers offensive line is an average pass blocking unit that has become poor this season due to injuries. Compared to their dominate run blocking-since 2011 the 49ers have been either the best run blocking team twice and second the other two years including this season according to PFF-it is a no brainer that the 49ers are best suited to grind games out with a run heavy attack.
The spread might be the way to go in long term as the new rules have swung the balance toward passing and direct rushing attacks are slowing giving way to spread zone read rushing attacks-Kaepernick's continued development as a passer will help the 49ers potentially transfer into a more open offense. But until then the 49ers need to continue to utilize their strengths up front with a steady dose of Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde.