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The good and the not so good of 49ers red zone performance in Week 1

49ers offense doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to be successful

San Francisco 49ers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Kyle Shanahan spoke to the media about the San Francisco 49ers’ red zone performance in Minnesota and I couldn’t agree more with what he said.

“It gets tougher down there, and when you have an opportunity and you miss it you will not have a good day in the red zone. Not going to reinvent the wheel, but we’re going to try and get better at that stuff.”

In reviewing every single red zone play from Sunday’s game, several things stood out to me. Our offense is what you would call “new school.” Several years ago in the NFL, the closer you got to the end zone the bigger the bodies would get. Teams would strive to pound the ball past the goal line. However in watching the tape, our offense is not built to manhandle teams into submission physically. Especially a defensive front as talented as the Minnesota Vikings.

The next thing that stood out was offensive line play. The right side of the line was already a question mark so it surely didn’t help when we lost both Mike Person, and Joshua Garnett. Overall however the offensive line struggled to simply block at the point of attack. Power blocking just isn’t how we’re built. Although we tried a few different things in the red zone power wise, we couldn’t compete.

Finally, there were simply too many miscues. Bad timing, confusing route combos, and just inaccurate ball placement led to some missed opportunities. With that being said, there are very few defenses in the NFL as fast and powerful as the Vikings. I’m confident that the offense will fix some of the errors, and Kyle will continue to tinker with the formations, and routes to get us better at scoring in more consistent fashion.

Here’s some plays I liked from the offense. The first clip is a TE screen. You can see the play is set up by Joe Staley pushing the defensive tackle into the middle of the line. This allows him room to leak out and attack the linebacker. George Kittle also fakes his block by pushing the defensive end up the field, then turns around for the screen. Solid play call, solid execution, but the Vikings defense simply closes so fast to the ball he’s tackled quickly.

Here’s another play I like. Shanahan’s offensive scheme often uses bunch formations to free up wide receivers. It also looks to create confusion among the defensive backs with the hopes that someone blows a coverage. In this case that doesn’t happen. Trent Taylor does get open on his route, but the linebacker is very solid in coverage. While he is initially beat, he makes up ground and quickly brings Taylor down to the ground. Again, not many linebackers in the league can run like Eric Kendricks.

Let’s look at some plays I don’t like. This one is a poor attempt at an RPO, which is all the rage is today’s NFL. I kept both angles for this one. Jimmy Garoppolo has the option of turning and handing off to Alfred Morris on the stretch run, or he can raise up and throw the quick slant to Pierre Garçon. This defensive is way to talented to fall for this simple design. The defensive end automatically stays home versus crashing down the line which is what I assume they were hoping for. Jimmy tries his best to throw around the defender but the pass is knocked down, then he taunts Jimmy G.

Here’s another play I don’t quite understand. I’m not sure if someone ran an incorrect route, or if it was drawn up this way. In the end Garçon still had a chance at the catch, but it wasn’t made easier by the route combo. Garçon lines up in the slot, and Matt Breida motions out wide. This is usually done to get the defense to give away their coverage. If a defensive back follows the running back out, it’s usually zone. If a linebacker heads out to cover the back, it’s usually man to man. For this play Garçon runs a great route. The tight end flat route holds the safety Harrison Smith, this leaves the linebacker one on one, and he can’t keep up. Where it gets weird is Matt Breida runs a go route and basically brings his defender right into the same window Garçon is in. Now instead of an easy catch, Garçon has to go up and make a contested catch; He fails. It’s possible Garçon’s route should have been more of an out, but he ran it more like a corner route, I’m really not sure. I could assume Breida should’ve ran a stop but then he would be in the same space as Kittle in the flat.

I call this play “fake power.” in an attempt to push the ball into the end zone, the 49ers employ Earl Mitchell in the backfield as a fullback. It’s a dead giveaway to a run play, also Mitchell isn’t going to sneak out the backfield into the flat and catch a pass. Once he motions out it’s pretty obvious which way the play is going. The Vikings read and react quicker than any defense in the league. They all play their part. Harrison Smith (blue circle) knows he isn’t not going to over power Mitchell, but he gets in his way and basically chop blocks him to prevent him from blocking at all on the play. Mitchell just tumbles over him, he’s now become a speed bump. This allows the linebacker to scrape down and fill the hole. He meets Morris one on one and creates contact. It’s possible Morris could’ve forced his way into the end zone here, but of course he trips over Mitchell who’s now laying on the ground.

Let’s look at a collection of offensive line fails.

I know the clips of some of the drops and missed passes were already all over the web. The drop by Dante Pettis in the end zone, as well as Jimmy G missing Kittle wide open in the back of the end zone to name a few. Here’s a more subtle play that speaks to something we should watch in the future. The play design is great. When you are facing a fast aggressive defense, misdirection is the best way to use their speed against them. The formation creates a power run look to the right side. Everyone on the offense pushes right. Kyle Juszczyk lines up off the line next to tight end Garrett Celek. At the snap he runs opposite the play and is pretty open in the flat. Jimmy G fakes the hand off and hits the naked bootleg with no defender in sight. Look at his footwork however. He sort of skips his feet instead of simply stopping and making an accurate throw. I’ve seen a few videos where his foot work comes into question. He tends to rely on this arm, and hip torque versus setting his feet. He often skips off his back foot, versus really driving the ball. This causes inaccurate throws.

This Sunday versus the Detroit Lions, we face a defense a lot less talented then Minnesota. I can anticipate better push at the point of attack. I also hope to see more missed tackles. Our offense is built to create mismatches and broken tackles. We have a lot of fast, shifty wide receivers. Shanahan looks to score via pass plays as opposed to pounding the ball once we hit the ten yard line. Catch and run is the name of the game. This includes quick slants, screens, and bunch route combos. The one variable I’m anxious to see is how Najee Toran performs at the right guard position. Jimmy G does a good job of reading progressions and getting to the open guy, but as seen above, if he doesn’t have the time to scan, he will often get sacked. Jimmy isn’t the “throw the ball away” type of QB. Go Niners!