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A potentially tank-worthy play was actually a well-designed play

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Not all tank-looking plays are elegant tanking.

The San Francisco 49ers entered Week 15 with a serious shot at the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft if they lost their last three games of the season. They beat the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, derailing that effort, but snapping a ten-game losing streak to the Seahawks.

There have been plenty of moments this year where the 49ers have played well only to come up short. The “elegant tank” has been a regular part of the discussion around these parts for the last two seasons, and whenever something a little fishy happens, the first thought is that it’s a convenient part of getting that high pick.

We saw another example on Sunday against Seattle. At the 10:41 mark of the fourth quarter, the 49ers and Seahawks were tied 20-20. Seattle had tied the game the previous drive with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that saw Chris Carson rumble for 53 of the yards. The Seahawks run game, stifled for the first three quarters, was showing signs of life.

The 49ers took over at their own 25 with 13:51 remaining in the fourth quarter and drove into Seattle territory thanks in large part to a 30-yard Dante Pettis reception. At 10:41, they faced a 3rd and 7 at the Seahawks 28 yard line. They were well within Robbie Gould’s field goal range, and saw it would have made sense to take a shot to try and convert another first down.

Instead, Nick Mullens handed the ball off to Matt Breida and he was swallowed by up Frank Clark after a one-yard gain. The 49ers settled for a field goal. Here’s a look at the play with the handoff slowed down.

My Twitter feed was instantly filled with people talking about it being a tank-worthy type of play. They play for the three points and potentially set the Seahawks up for another Russell Wilson fourth quarter comeback.

The 49ers would actually get stout play from their defense each of the remaining Seahawks series, but if you re-watch the play, there is something notable that the announcers picked up on. If Mike McGlinchey successfully blocked Clark on that play, Breida would have had a sizable hole to get to the first down marker. He might have needed a block from Dante Pettis in front of him, but there was a lot of grass between Breida and the yellow first down line.

We’ll likely never know for sure what Shanahan’s thought process was on that play, but it made a lot of sense. Clark was bringing the heat and the play design used that aggression to try and take him out of the play. George Kittle had motioned over to Clark’s side, and at the snap cut to the left to fake a block that appeared to set up an inside run. The safety over top cut in when Kittle moved and that opened up the space past the line of scrimmage.

The play didn’t work out this time, but the design was sound.