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Juice Check: Week 4 vs. LA Chargers

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A quiet game, a new formation, a missed TD

San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Every week we look at how San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan uses his Offensive Weapon, Kyle Juszczyk, as a way to track some of the coach’s offensive complexity.

Juice was in a lot against the Los Angeles Chargers, 37 of 60 offensive plays plus his usual role as right wing/personal protector on the punt coverage team, but he played a smaller role than in previous games, where he had the team’s longest reception in two of three contests. Even now, he has the third most receiving yards on the team, just 19 behind Pierre Garçon.

The versatile fullback was targeted just 3 times on 12 routes, completing two. (The other pass was broken up by very tight coverage.) Coach Shanahan did not call any plays where #44 tried to sneak out long, though he did pick up five in the red zone on a nifty new play.

Starting at the Chargers 12, the team faked a sweep right with the fullback naturally lead-blocking. But after a few steps, he made a sharp pivot to reverse direction and was open for a drag route left, picking up five hard-won yards down to the seven. Juszczyk usually sits in the red zone, so it’s great to see the team finding a new tool for their struggling red zone offense.

Then in the third quarter, C.J. Beathard lofted a moon-ball in Juice’s general direction as he was getting hit, and the blocking back made a nice adjustment to come back inside, jump for the ball and hang on as he was immediately speared in the kidneys by LB Denzel Perryman. He was slow getting up, but gained ten yards and the first down.

Juice’s biggest pass, though, was the one that didn’t happen. It’s hard to complain, because the Niners scored a touchdown on the play anyway, but it would have been a lot more sure and less risky if Beathard had seen him.

With 3:57 left in the first. Beathard rifled a pass to Kendrick Bourne (in the blue box), just inches from the outstretched hands of three different Chargers. Meanwhile, Juszczyk (red circle) could not have been more open in the left slot. He was literally at least 7 yards from the nearest player, which is hard to do on a play that starts at the two yard line.

On the other 25 of his offensive snaps Juszczyk was blocking, and frankly it was not his best game. He had a couple of key blocks in pass protection that gave Beathard enough time to complete long passes, and blocked Melvin Ingram down which is always impressive, but there were at least four plays where he wasn’t able to maintain his block through to the whistle, allowing his target to slip free and assist on a tackle.

On one of those plays, OLB Kyle Emanuel shed him for a QB hit, and got called for roughing the passer. The throw was complete anyway though, and I’d rather the team got fewer yards and kept Beathard’s jersey clean for at least one play.

As always, Shanahan used a variety of new and different formations. This week, Juice was mostly an I-formation fullback, or a single back to the left or (usually) right of Beathard, who was almost always in shotgun.

Shanny seems to have achieved every coach’s goal, where the formation tells you nothing about what the play will be. Lined up wing or inline, out wide or in the middle of the I-formation, his fullback might end up anywhere on the field, run blocking, pass protecting, or running a route. That’s what makes it interesting to observe, even on a quiet week.