The shootout win over the Saints was a slugfest between two of the NFL’s best play-callers, pulling out all the stops in an attempt to claw their way to the number one seed in the NFC.
The wildest came at a crucial moment, as the Niners were down 13 and struggling to stay in the game, with 7 minutes left in the first half.
Garoppolo was under center, with Raheem Mostert at halfback, fully seven yards behind the line of scrimmage. Emmanuel Sanders motioned into the left slot, and Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne were tight to the right of the line.
It actually looked like trips tight right, except the third was tackle Mike McGlinchey, a step away from the rest of the offensive line and a step back, while Kittle aligned tight on the left side. Every Niner was inside the numbers, and Sanders was the only one outside of the left hash mark.
Garoppolo rolled right, following the offensive line, then handed off to Deebo Samuel running the reverse. When Samuel got between the hash marks, he pitched to Sanders, who was coming in orbit motion, and the play looked like a well-crafted double reverse, with five blockers ahead of Sanders on the right side of the backfield.
That must be what the Saints’ star defensive end Cameron Jordan thought because he kept his eyes on Sanders as Mostert ran right by him on a wheel route. By the time the ball was in the air, Mostert was ten yards past him down the sideline.
New Orlean’s D wasn’t beaten yet, though. Linebacker Stephone Anthony was all over it, rushing through the vacated A-gap and narrowly missing Deebo, then quickly adjusting to Sanders after the pitch.
Anthony almost blew up the play, forcing E-San to run backward five yards and hoist up an off-balance, back-foot heave down to Mostert. The LB got a hurry and a QB hit, but the pass was perfect. (Well, a little high, but close enough.)
Mostert scored easily and uncorked his surfing celebration, paddling the end zone stripe, like it was an Orion Shred Dog grovel board.
The sharp eyes of former 49er Ian Williams, now a football analyst for NBC Sports, noticed an even smarter thing about this play call.
The 2nd play on offense for the 49ers was supposed to be a reverse to Deebo but there was a false start. That play was deliberately called to set up the reverse pass from Emmanuel Sanders to Raheem Mostert just 13 plays later. Play calling at its finest from Kyle Shanahan #49ers— Ian Williams (@IWilliams95) December 10, 2019
Looking at the tape, you can see the same tight formation, with true trips on the left as Kittle filled the spot that McGlinchey did on the TD. This time, the initial motion was to the left.
It looks like Deebo was set for a big gain on the play, too, if the motion penalty hadn’t killed it. Look how much empty turf sat between him and the sideline; there’s no way those two flat-footed defenders at the hash mark were going to outrace a full-speed Samuel to the edge.
This was Emmanuel Sanders’ second career TD pass, both on pitch plays running to his right. The first was last year, when Denver walloped Arizona 45-10 in mid-October, and he tossed it 28 yards to Courtland Sutton.
The next time he takes a pitch on orbit motion right, the defense will probably hang back, expecting the bomb — and Sanders will pick up 15 or 20 yards running down the sideline.