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Film room: How Kyle Shanahan used Deebo Samuel to beat the Rams

Deebo had a night as Kyle Shanahan returned to some familiar run game concepts as well as Jimmy G’s success on third and fourth down.

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The 49ers Monday night game versus the Rams had a familiar feel to it. In the two games against Los Angeles before this in 2020, the 49ers showcased a simple wrinkle on one of their running game staples by turning it into a pass play with Deebo Samuel. In 2021, they featured Deebo more like a running back in traditional alignments in the backfield with the same basic running game structure.

In 2020 they termed the package for Deebo “Deadpool.” Deadpool is a wrinkle off of their “zorro” outside-zone running play. The zorro run concept allows the tight end to kick out the wide defensive end or linebacker on the line of scrimmage. At the same time, the fullback blocks inside and protects the tight end’s defender from any inside move before moving on to the next defender through the hole. It is their go-to play against heavy 3-4 teams that sell out on the edges.

In their Deadpool package, the offense comes out in 11 personnel instead of 21 personnel and runs outside zone much the same way. It’s just scored as a pass because Garoppolo pushes the ball forward instead of handing it off backward. But it’s blocked just like Zorro.

On Monday night, Deebo, Elijah Mitchell, and Jeff Wilson all combined for 155 rushing yards as the 49ers' offensive line pushed the Rams defensive front around and won 31-10 in a lopsided game.

Zorro (Cat)

On the 49ers' first play of the game, they ran zorro tagged with “cat,” which tells the play side receiver to crack block down on the safety instead of blocking the corner.

The 49ers are in 11 personnel with Deebo as the F receiver jet motioning to the strong side to block inside of the tight end in what is traditionally fullback Kyle Juszczyk’s role on the play.

Deebo flies across on the jet motion and blocks inside the tight end, helps Kittle set the edge on the edge defender, then gets upfield to block the next defender into the run fit. Receiver Jauan Jennings (No. 15) bypasses the corner and blocks the safety coming down into the box late. Mitchell’s run goes for four yards.

On the very next play of the game, Shanahan used a little deception by lining up in shotgun 11 personnel again but first going empty, and then motioning Deebo from out wide into the backfield as the running back as Garoppolo went under center.

Using Deebo in 11 personnel allowed the 49ers to get speed on the field versus the Rams subpackage defense. The play call had the same “cat” tag with it, telling the play side receiver to block down on the safety as he rotated down from 2-high coverage into the run fit.

This time, on the field as the 11 personnel running back was Jeff Wilson, who jet motioned across to help tight end George Kittle block the outside linebacker. Jennings blocked the safety as he came down into the box, and Deebo had a nice running lane for nine yards due to the corner being out of the fit too far downfield.

On Deebo’s touchdown, the 49ers disguised zorro with the jet motion on an inside zone run with Deebo.

The play looked initially like zorro with the fast motion across to the strong side, but Deebo took the handoff on an inside zone track to the backside as the defense cheated over to play the motion. Samuel outran the defense to the front corner of the end zone as safety Taylor Rapp got caught too far inside on the motion.

The 49ers ran zorro and two subtle but different variants of that play several times in their Monday night win over the Rams. The cut-ups are below.

Change-up: Y-sift

The 49ers used zorro to set up other zone run game variants with the jet motion to take advantage of aggressive defenders on the strong side.

Here in the second quarter, the 49ers called “toss 15 Y sift” with Juszczyk on the jet motion across to the strong side.

The start of the play pre-snap looks like zorro, but at the snap, Kittle sift blocks across the formation as the defense sells out to play the motion side. The defensive shift opened a running lane on the weak side of the formation as the defense was caught inside as Mitchell cut back against the flow of the defense.

Jimmy G efficient and effective on third and fourth down

Jimmy Garoppolo played pretty well, especially on third and fourth down. He was 6-of-9 on third down converting to first down and was 1-of-1 converting on fourth down. One third-down pass and the fourth-down conversion each went for touchdowns.

On the game’s opening drive, Garoppolo found Kittle on the 18th play of the drive for a touchdown on 3rd-and-8 on their “aggie now” concept modified for the low red zone. Aggie now is run out of a 3x2 empty formation is an all-go concept (hence “aggie”) with a “now” slant underneath the verticals by the #1 receiver on the trip side.

To run the play in the low red zone like this, the play is modified to create space. The number two in trips runs his route almost like a wheel from the slot, so he gets the corner to widen away from the seam as well as Jalen Ramsey (No. 5), which opens a throwing window.

Normally, the number three receiver would bend up the seam, but in compressed space, Kittle runs his route like a corner route into the space created by the wheel. Garoppolo places the pass perfectly high and away from the defenders so that it cannot be broken up.

Here are the rest of Garoppolo’s third-down throws. Again, he did a fantastic job of throwing on time and knowing exactly where to go with the ball.

On the fourth-down play, the game was pretty much over at that point, but this definitely sealed it, and Garoppolo nailed it with a perfectly timed throw to Deebo before he ever uncovered over the middle of the field.

The 49ers line up in a trips bunch to the right on 4th-and-4 just past mid-field. The play call is a dig route over the middle and corner route by Kyle Juszczyk (No. 44), where Juszczyk releases behind Deebo, and both routes put the seam defender in conflict. As Deebo is running across the middle, Garoppolo anticipates him hitting the window and fires it in there before Deebo ever uncovers. Instead, he hits him in stride, and Deebo sprints to the end zone.

Outlook

The 49ers have a chance to win several of their next five games against equal or lesser teams and position themselves for the playoffs. But right now, that would require a level of consistency that they just have not displayed this season.

The win over the Rams was undoubtedly a boost of confidence. But it did not necessarily tell us anything concrete about this team other than that they remain inconsistent. Getting back to .500 would be a good start, though, as the team looks to get back on track with a road game against Jacksonville.