Welcome to (or back to) the Silverado faithful. *WHISTLE BLOWS/FLAG THROWN* ILLEGAL PROCEDURE, OFFENSE, FIVE YARD PENALTY, REPEAT 1ST DOWN. That was on me, and I can’t lie; my nerves got to me. Let’s go, though, won’t happen again. What I meant to say was: Welcome to the Silverado for the first playoff edition ride with yours truly Kev faithful. That has a ring to it, doesn’t it? The playoff edition! Yeah, I like that. You know what has an even better ring to it and comes with a ring? The Super Bowl. As I digress.
As they say, you have to crawl before you walk and one game at a time. So for now, let’s attack the task at hand, the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round. The San Francisco 49ers make their first playoff appearance since 2013 and host their first playoff game at Levi’s Stadium this Saturday, January 11th, 2020.
Go ahead and buckle up, and we’ll get moving. This ride, we’ll talk about four things Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, General Manager John Lynch, and the 49ers need to focus on to ensure their first playoff game at Levi’s Stadium results in their first playoff win as well. *DISCLAIMER* This ride will be a bit longer than the previous. But I promise you’ll be happy you jumped in.
Make every possession count
Okay, this is it. First game of the playoffs. There is no, “we” ll get them next week.” There is no next week if you aren’t already better than you were yesterday and strive to get/be better continuously. That said, each possession the 49ers have, they need to score points or, at minimum, flip the field. Of course, touchdowns rather than field goals, but put points on the board with every possession, is definitely a plus. And let’s be honest, a field goal is better than no points any day.
In playoff football, you never know if you’ll get that chance again, so you have to capitalize on every given opportunity. Especially if in the red zone. It’s going to take everybody on the field to get involved and have an impact. That Shanahan mastery we’ve all seen will need to be on full display. Good thing for the 49ers, they enter the game Saturday having generated explosive pass plays 20.2% of the time.
This trend will need to continue this weekend for the 49ers offense to take full advantage of their possessions. Last time I checked, 15 was a 1st down and a half. Yeah, I know, not a 1st down and a half in the sense of if you need 10 but get 15, you’ll only then need another 5 for another 1st down, but you know what I mean. In terms of eating up yardage, getting 15 when you only need 10 is a win seven days of the week and multiple times on game days.
Now, of course, it doesn’t always work out like that where yards come 15 at a time, but every attempt needs to be made to ensure this can happens. In the event, they’re only in field goal range, of course, take the field goal. Never take points off the board. But now (the playoffs) isn’t the time to settle for field goals, the final destination is that big (playoff red) box, the end zone!
One of the best ways to improve your chances of getting to that box is to try and stay out of them (especially long 3rd downs) but be good on third downs when they come because they will. Thus far this season, Jimmy G and the 49ers have converted almost half of their 3rd downs when passing the ball.
The two best passing teams on third down this season? The 49ers and the Vikings. San Francisco converted 45.5% of their third downs this season when throwing the ball, which led the league. Minnesota was second at 43.7. h/t @pvolmut— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) January 6, 2020
Let’s go, Coach, dial them up! I’m not saying show your whole playbook, but show enough to keep the chains moving be it run or pass. And let’s get Matt Breida going again, even Tevin Coleman, they need all hands on deck!
Be very balanced on offense (play calls and ball distribution)
Thus far this season, we’ve witnessed Shanahan call plays that will wow you and make you call him a mad scientist or even Megamind. Have you on team “that’s my coach” Then we’ve also seen him call plays to where you’d think he accidentally hit the ask Madden button, making you wonder, just what is he doing.
You know how back in the day playing Madden (it’s gotten better over the years), and it is let’s say 3rd & 3 or so from your own 6-yard line, and for some reason, the suggested play is a double reverse. And your instant reaction is.........
Like, “What in the name of “I hit the wrong button” was that? Okay, I don’t think Shanahan has been that bad but he’s indeed called some plays that made us all say, “So ah, of your 3 billion plays, that’s the best you could do right there huh coach?” But I’m sure come Saturday he’ll have his “divisional round” section in his playbook activated.
This season, the 49ers have actually been quite balanced in their run/pass ratio (run 49.21 %, pass 50.79%), and I’m okay with that. Keep that going. Speaking of keeping it going, I know most believe George Kittle is this entire offense and I’m all for riding the Kittle Express.
This picture will never get old. But seeing as how this is now the playoffs, I’m sure teams will make it a point to try and ensure they keep that Kittle Express off the tracks as much as possible. Thus, forcing Jimmy Garappolo and Shanahan to be prepared to involve each one of their play makers.
The beauty of that, is guys like Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, Kyle Juszczyk, and any of the running backs can be viable threats in the passing game as well.
Shanhan and this offense have the ability to hit a different target (threat) every down as they move down the field if they so choose. It should really be a matter of pick your poison with this offense, they just have to execute. Just take a look at a few of these stats in reference to how effective some of the aforementioned names can be.
Keep them dizzy with slants/crossers (routes crossing the field), busy chasing with plenty YAC (yards after catch), frustrated with forced missed tackles, and keep them continually caught sleeping at the wheel (off guard) with timely plays to Juszczyk.
"When throwing to a receiver that leads the receiver across the field, Garoppolo completed 90.9% of his passes and averaged 15.6 yards per attempt."— PFF SF 49ers (@PFF_49ers) December 31, 2019
Jimmy Garoppolo, PFF Team of the Week https://t.co/JTNj4Zgsft pic.twitter.com/g6pTph1owe
The #49ers gained 413 yards on Sunday Night and a total of 148 of those yards came after contact.— PFF SF 49ers (@PFF_49ers) December 30, 2019
They forced 19 missed tackles on Sunday, which is eight more than they have forced in any other game this season.
Saving the best for last. #NFCWestChamps pic.twitter.com/wrmhnxUZa6
My point, at any given time any given threat on this offense can get open and burn a defense. Coach just has to be truly sound and surgical with his play calls and the players (yes including Jimmy, more Good Jimmy than bad Jimmy) have to do their jobs and execute.
Make that Minnesota defense have to cover, think, tackle, react, and stay on their toes. Especially their secondary as they have a couple key injuries.
Game status report for #MINvsSF #49ers— Jennifer Lee Chan (@jenniferleechan) January 9, 2020
DE Dee Ford (knee/hamstring)
DL Kentavius Street (knee)#Vikings
CB Mackensie Alexander (knee)
S Jayron Kearse (toe, knee)
WR Adam Thielen (ankle)
It should be a healthy dose of YAC and missed tackles. They do this, they dominate. If not, we may need our blood pressure medication on hand as it may be close and stressful.
Points off turnovers
There’s only one thing better than points. Points off turnovers! This is especially important if you have great field position because you worked hard to force a turnover. Ultimately you’d want that possession to end with a trip to that red box.
See, this is where I really start getting excited because I’m a (youth) defensive coordinator (DC) and have fallen in love with the art of defense and taking the ball from the offense, so bare with me. No, it’s legit a high for me. Judge me if you please, his defense just added three starters back to an already good defense. That is huge!
And some can say what they want, but Richard Sherman is just about having one of the best seasons of his career. Oh yeah, he also has a pick 6 under his belt.
I know that was random, follow me. Sticking with the play makers on defense, the 49ers are reforming Voltron as they’re getting Dee Ford, Jaquiski Tartt, and Kwon Alexander back from injury. They again have the ability to force turnovers in multiple ways and at all three levels (defensive line, linebackers, and secondary) of the defense.
Be it strip/coverage sacks, forced fumbles, or interceptions, this defense should again be able to force turnovers and force 3 & outs almost regularly and from the front to the back of this defense.
Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa is already dominating even with seeing double and triple teams. Everybody likes numbers right? Here are a few for you along with some tape (courtesy of my guy JL_Chapman) of him putting working for those numbers on tape.
80 Pressures— PFF SF 49ers (@PFF_49ers) January 9, 2020
The pass-rushing triple-double as a rookie. Nick Bosa with an historic season as a rookie. pic.twitter.com/EDzrHKI8lw
Bosa is a monster! He may not get sacks, but he’s going to get his share of pressures, which helps too. He was triple team, held, and he still ran down Russell Wilson in the flat for only a 2 yard gain. His motor is stuck in overdrive. Love it.
With Ford back, he won’t have to work as hard as teams will now have to account for and possibly double Ford as well. This bodes well for the entire defensive line as they should be able to see 1-on-1’s. Like I always say, numbers never lie.
Guys like DeForrest Buckner and Arik Armstead should win their 1-on-1’s more often than not. Others like Kentavius Street, Anthony Zettel, Sheldon Day, Kevin Givens, and Earl Mitchell don’t even have to necessarily have to show up on the stat sheet (though it would be a bonus), just don’t get pushed out of your gap or out of the play, just being there and taking up space works. Points off turnovers include forcing the offense to turn the ball over on downs as well.
Limit Dalvin Cook, putting (getting) pressure on Cousins
As you may know, as much as I love my 49ers and their defense, I can acknowledge when a team has a legit offense that needs to be strategically schemed for. The Minnesota offense meets the criteria.
People (fans) can talk all they want about how there is nothing to worry about, and Curk Cousins is trash as if that play-action (PA) game isn’t one of the best if Cook gets going with the outside zone they like to run.
Cook alone can make you act a fool out there (do whatever he wants) and also make you look like one if he’s not bottled up and allowed to get going. The Vikings are second-best in the league on 3rd down (43.87%). The majority of that success is predicated on the outside zone run to Cooks and the PA, which actually go hand in hand.
So, the best way to prevent both from happening is to stop or limit Cook getting to the edge in the OZ, forcing him to the middle and gang tackle him. You let him know it’s not his day. Then you simultaneously let Cousin know the same and keep him on his back or running for this life.
I need this defense to make Cousin swap his cleats for some track spikes. Keep him on his back and running all day. I know I mentioned it before but just look at these numbers with and without Ford on the field.
In the words of Kwon, that is Legendary! I’ll say it if nobody else will. Ford has been hurt or out the majority of the season and has come back only to have to rest and rehab again. It’s quite frustrating not having the edge rusher the team paid for, right? Can you imagine how frustrating it is to him? Look, I don’t know what to expect in terms of his availability, especially after this tweet surfaced.
I’m not sure if this is more of gamesmanship or true reality, but all I know is we have the potential to see defensive greatness if Ford plays until that doesn’t happen.
How amazing would it be for Ford to play the most important three-game stretch of his life and be the force we know he can be when healthy and straight dominate? C’mon Dee, just give us three games, sir, just three.
One at a time, of course, but three. What’s mind-blowing is even at 80% he’s a beast. What’s the best way to limit a team’s offense from scoring points? Limit or keep the ball away from them, giving them opportunities to do so by making plays on defense.
Okay, I’m done, my apologies, you know I get carried away, and the coach comes out of me when I start talking 49ers and defense simultaneously. LET’S GO! FINISH THIS!
First of my apologies for this ride is a bit longer than the normal long ride. This is on a different level, though; this is the playoffs; this is their legit shot. They say the next level is going to require a different you. That applies to us all, so that’s what I’m doing. A better me, not so much different.
In any case, okay, we’re here. I know you rode with me here, but you still have no idea how excited, happy, anxious I am about this. So long if our 49ers go in here and do their job, handle their business, and execute as a unit in all three phases of the game and make every opportunity to make a play count. That’s just one step closer to it all.
On the other side of that reality, is perhaps they don’t do a decent to good job crowding Cook and allow Adam Thielen, Stephon Diggs, or Kyle Rudolph to get hot, it’ll be a long day or a much closer game than it should for the defense
On offense, they must contain Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. Both them dudes come screaming off that edge and can completely shut down an offense. But, they can be schemed against. Joe Staley, Mike McGlinchey, and this offensive line unit will need to play some of their best football, keeping the guys in purple on their side of the line of scrimmage.
Mix it up, stunts, slants, screens, you name it. As I said earlier, coach is going to have to be a better him as well with his creativity in his play-calling, personnel packages, and timing of the play calls.
But, I already know that’s exactly what he’s prepared to do, and I can’t wait to see it. Let’s go Niners. Let’s win this and be one step closer to ending the quest for six and starting the quest for seven! ALL GAS NO BRAKE!