The San Francisco 49ers offense has been solid on the ground in the preseason, but the passing game has been highly questionable. There have been some positive moments, but with wide receivers getting hurt, and none really stepping up, it is easy to be pessimistic about what Blaine Gabbert will be able to do out of the gates when Week 1 gets here.
ESPN analyst Matt Bowen recently put together a look at one play in each offensive playbook that is their “unstoppable play.” He described it as the one play or specific scheme, “that gives opposing defenses trouble when it comes to matchups and limiting production.”
The San Francisco 49ers are implementing a new playbook this year under new head coach Chip Kelly, and Bowen pointed to Hi-Lo Mesh. It is run out of 11 personnel, with three receivers, one tight end, and one running back. Here is how Matt drew it up:
Bowen described the play for ESPN as one where the key would be Carlos Hyde coming out of the backfield. My guess is Shaun Draughn could potentially get work in this play as well. Offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins said Draughn compared in some ways to Theo Riddick, whom Modkins worked with in Detroit. Here’s how Bowen described the play:
Chip Kelly loves the Hi-Lo Mesh concept, so expect to see it all year in San Fran regardless of who is starting at quarterback. With the Z receiver in a reduced split and the slot (H) aligned tight to the core of the formation, the 49ers are running inside crossing routes to free up targets underneath with the tight end (Y) basically setting a pick. However, the key to this play is the running back (R). This could be Carlos Hyde for the 49ers this season in that "chowed" alignment off the tackle's outside leg. Instead of bursting to the flat, Hyde releases on a rail route. This forces the linebacker in coverage to work through a bunch of trash (picks), while Hyde creates separation down the field. This is an opportunity to create an explosive play based on formation, alignment and scheme.
I don’t know how long Chip Kelly has used this play, but back in 2011, Bowen did a description of the play for National Football Post. In that one, he discussed the rail route Mike Martz was running in Chicago with Matt Forte coming out of the backfield. Bowen said that Martz had previously run it while head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Considering what Marshall Faulk could do in the passing game, it makes sense as a valuable play. He goes into a lot more detail about the route and the options in the NFP post, so I would recommend giving that a read. And it won’t cost you anything like ESPN Insider!