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Anatomy of a play: Breaking down Brandon Aiyuk’s fake counter reverse touchdown

Film room breaks down Brandon Aiyuk’s first career NFL touchdown.

San Francisco 49ers v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Over the last year, the 49ers run game has evolved in ways that head coach Kyle Shanahan has never really been known for. The use of a fullback in his outside-zone running scheme, before 2019, provided ample opportunity for his teams to dominate in the run game by creating favorable angles for the blockers.

But last season, with the best run game coordinator in the league, Mike McDaniel, Shanahan began to unearth a variety of motions, misdirections, flies, reverses, etc., that compliment the outside-zone running scheme.

On an individual level, there was already a variety of eye candy built-in to the previous base runs, from influence blocks to set up edge defenders for the kick out or widening the receiver’s stalk block to widening the corner to set him up to be blocked by the force player before the receiver moves on to the safety.

Those individual actions are important, but on a macro level, the rest of the offense’s flow is equally, if not more important, than the individual assignments. Run plays that look like one type of base run can often morph into another type of run completely. Enter the fake counter reverse that became a staple run for receiver Deebo Samuel last season. Deebo ran the play three times last season and gained 93 total yards and one touchdown in the final weeks of the season and playoffs.

With Deebo out, Brandon Aiyuk was the receiver who got his chance to run it on Sunday on the second half’s opening drive, and he scored from 19 yards out.

The play begins with Kendrick Bourne and Aiyuk in cut splits into the boundary to the left of the formation, with Bourne motioning over to the wide side of the field next fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who is in a wing position. Tight end Ross Dwelley is on the line at the end of the formation.

The Giants are in a single high coverage shell. The motion confirms to the 49ers that it’s zone coverage, giving the 49ers an advantage on the run as there is no capable force defender to set the edge with the corner in deep third responsibility pre-snap.

The play starts out looking like “16 counter,” a gap scheme base running play in Shanahan’s offense. Juszczyk and Brunskill move in the direction of the counter to sell the motion to the left side of the formation as the defense crashes toward what appears to them to be the point of attack.

As soon as Aiyuk gets the ball, Juszczyk reverses course along with right tackle Mike McGlinchey and center Ben Garland. The trio gets out on the edge where they meet little resistance and only has to contend with the safety and corner. Aiyuk navigates the traffic and sprints 19 yards to his first career touchdown.

The 49ers are quick to snap the ball as soon as Bourne sets after his motion to prevent the Giants’ defense from changing responsibilities on the fly and keeping them in cover-3. The direction of the offense out-gaps the defense to the edge, and the rest is history.

As an added bonus, Juszczyk throws a crushing block on linebacker Blake Martinez, who has not fared so well against Shanahan offenses in his last four games against the 49ers (three were with the Packers defense and now one with the Giants).

Here are the 2019 clips of the 49ers offense running the counter reverse three times with Deebo. In the now four times they’ve run it since last season, the play has gone for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Getting Deebo back soon will add a layer of uncertainty that defenses now have to prepare for.