Late in the third quarter of the Sunday night game against the Los Angeles Rams, cornerback Jason Verrett lined up across from Rams receiver Josh Reynolds anticipating a play the Rams could run from the bunch formation they lined up in. They repped it out in practice, and because they knew from prior film study that the Rams like a certain play out of this formation inside the 5-yard line, Verrett knew exactly what was coming.
He guessed correctly and turned the tide of the game, and even though the 49ers led 21-9 at that point, he kept the Rams out of the end zone and from making it a one-score game.
“We talked about that in practice, knowing that when they get in those bunch situations, they like to do a lot of flat routes with a corner, and it happened to be that play, I have leverage on my guy and vision back on the quarterback, and once I saw the ball thrown I went and made a play,” Verrett said after practice on Thursday during his media availability.
“That play” is a concept the Shanahan tree of coaches, McVay in particular, likes to run in the low red zone inside the five-yard line, “arrow.”
Arrow is run out of a bunch formation with an angled stop route, a corner route over the top, and a flat route underneath. The order above isn’t necessarily how it’s run all the time, as McVay likes to change up the personnel running certain routes so that defenders get confused having to defend each release off the line.
In week two, the Rams put the arrow route on film when they ran it inside the five-yard line against the Eagles for a quick touchdown to Tyler Higbee as the Y tight end #3 in the trips bunch to the left.
The Eagles are playing with a defensive back in off coverage on the #1 receiver with press coverage on the #2 and #3 receivers. Cooper Kupp is running the arrow route, and Robert Woods is running the corner route. The Eagles defenders are not in a position to deal with the rub created by the arrow route at the snap.
The defender responsible for the flat route gets clipped briefly by Kupp as he tries to peel with the flat route, and this contact delays him just long enough for Goff to find Higbee in the flat for the touchdown.
Against the 49ers, the Rams came out in the same bunch formation to run the same play. They had just driven down the field to the two-yard line and were looking to score late in the third quarter on fourth down.
Verrett’s interception was phenomenal but as he said above, he knew what they liked in the red zone inside the five and he saw it at the snap.
The only differences in the Rams play call in week six was to have Reynolds (No. 11) as the #1 receiver running the corner and Woods (No. 17) as the #3 to the flat with the tight end to the single receiver side opposite the bunch. Kupp (No. 10) is still the point man.
The 49ers likely had a “stab-n-deuce” check to the trips side, which is a common way to play the bunch formation. Verrett, as the outside cornerback, is responsible for the first receiver out and safety Jimmie Ward is responsible for the first receiver in with the point defender Jamar Taylor (No. 47) in a “MEG” technique (Man Everywhere he Goes). Essentially it is a banjo call with a 3rd MEG defender to ensure the switch releases in different directions don’t pick the defenders.
Verrett sees Woods release to the flat as Reynolds releases inside to his corner route stem. Verrett immediately gets his eyes in the backfield while peeling to the flat. He doesn’t need to race to cover Woods as they are to the short side of the field with limited space for Woods to maneuver.
At this point in the down, the timing and angle of the routes don’t support a throw to the flat so Verrett starts to peel up into the end zone as Goff’s eyes shift to Reynolds on the corner, who was able to shake Ward in coverage to get a yard of separation. Goff throws it.
As the ball is thrown, Verrett peels away from Woods and sinks under the pass picking it off as it was just out of Reynolds’s reach.
It certainly helped that Woods turned upfield instead of staying in the flat, but Verrett was reading the quarterback the entire time with his peripherals on Woods. It was just a good instinctual play to peel at the right moment and be in the right spot as the pass arrived.
The play kept the Rams out of the end zone, who eventually added a late touchdown that would’ve potentially tied the game. But this was not the case thanks to Verrett’s hard work, film study, and instincts and spoke to the kind of player he used to be before injuries and one he is returning to.