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49ers run game concepts versus Jacksonville and Jimmy Garoppolo’s continued efficiency

This week’s film room looks at some new wrinkles in the run game plus Jimmy Garoppolo’s efficiency streak continues.

San Francisco 49ers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The 49ers put together another complete game on both sides of the ball in Jacksonville last weekend by defeating the Jaguars 30-10 six days after beating the Rams 31-10. At 5-5 now, the 49ers are currently sitting in the seventh seed in the NFC playoff picture thanks to creative game planning, a quarterback who’s playing as efficiently as he’s ever played, and a stout defense that’s getting some players back healthy.

Offensively, in the last two games, the 49ers have put together scoring drives of 11:04 (18 plays, touchdown), 7:52 (11 plays, touchdown), 13:05 (20 plays, field goal), and 5:45 (11 plays, touchdown). They’re also winning the time of possession battle, possessing the ball for 39 minutes in Week 10 versus the Rams and 38 minutes in week 11 versus the Jaguars. They have not turned the ball over since their disastrous start against Arizona in week nine.

In the last two games, head coach Kyle Shanahan expanded the role of Deebo Samuel to include reps in the running, giving them flexibility with how they call runs and run run-pass options off those run calls. Fans may remember Deebo’s usage on the Deebo reverse in 2019. In 2021, Deebo is seeing increased reps as the H back on under center runs as well as out of shotgun.

Here are some of their new favorite concepts from the Jaguars game with Deebo.

Shotgun sweep

This play itself has been around in the install for a while, but it has been used sparingly until recently. The play call is 38/39 Spring and is a shotgun sweep run that hits quickly to the closed or strong side of the formation. It is the perfect play for a speedy ball carrier like Deebo.

The basic structure of the play is sweep blocking but out of shotgun with the play side tackle pulling to get to the edge of the offense to clear a path for the ball carrier. The benefit of shotgun is getting the ball into the running back’s hands quicker so he can be more decisive as the play develops.

Deebo’s speed allows the play to hit the edge faster, while the block from Jauan Jennings gets Deebo a few more yards.

Shotgun power lead

In 2019, Shanahan started calling more gap scheme runs from under center as a change-up to his wide zone scheme runs against defenses that were selling out on the edges. In 2020, he started adding more escort motions to his wide zone runs, and that has carried over this season.

In 2021, particularly the last two games, Shanahan is marrying the two ideas of using escort motion and gap scheme runs and doing it out of shotgun.

Against the Jaguars, Deebo carried the ball three times on this concept. Garoppolo will start by sending either tight end George Kittle or fullback Kyle Juszczyk on a quick motion, whoever is lined up as the wing player away from the closed tight end side. Once they start in motion, Garoppolo takes the snap and quickly gets into Deebo’s hands at the mesh point. Deebo follows his blockers, the other being the backside guard Dan Brunskill, to the edge of the defense.

On this particular occasion, Shanahan called the play twice in a row for gains of 11 and 21 yards, clips two and three in the video above.

Split Back Push Motion Bubble Run Pass Option (RPO)

This is a play the 49ers killed the Packers within the NFC Championship game in 2019. In 2021, it appears to be the 49ers go-to RPO, showing up at least 2-3 times per game. And for good reason: it’s very effective and simple to execute. There’s a positive gain to be had in both the run or pass option on the play.

Against the Jaguars, the 49ers called the play twice for positive gains, a 25-yard touchdown run by Deebo, and a 7-yard completion from Garoppolo to Brandon Aiyuk out on the bubble.

The play call is “38/39 Spring Topper” and is based out of shotgun with the push motion to the two-receiver side and a sweep or outside zone run call to the strong side. The play call puts defenses in a bind because they have to decide how many defenders to allocate to the run inside the box versus defending the quick perimeter pass.

The read on the play is based on the actions of the WILL linebacker or defensive end. If he stays in the box, the read is to throw. The quarterback will almost certainly give if he widens with the motion or walks out to cover a receiver as the overhang. If those players hesitate, they can’t defend the run in the box. If they crash down hard, he can pull and throw it to the edge.

On Deebo’s touchdown run, the WILL and safety blitz no matter what, and Garoppolo has to decide if he’s going to give or throw based on this. On this particular play, either give or pass would be good because the backside defenders are out of the run fit, but the 49ers also have a 3-on-2 in the pass if he chooses to pass.

He likely chooses to give due to the ability of the defender to get into his throwing lane on the blitz. Deebo scoots for 25 yards and the touchdown.

Later in the game, the 49ers called this in a slightly different way. Instead of running it out of split backs, they motion Aiyuk from a wing position on the left to run the bubble on the right side.

The defense bumps over with the motion with an overhang defender but doesn’t adjust their box numbers, and Garoppolo now must decide now post-snap who the most dangerous player is.

Garoppolo reads the defensive end, who stays in the box to defend the run, giving the defense a numbers advantage at the line of scrimmage with at least one unblocked defender. Garoppolo pulls and throws the quick bubble to Aiyuk, where the offense has a 3-on-2 due to the safety being too deep to come up and blow the play up. Aiyuk gets seven on the play.

Jimmy G stays efficient

Garoppolo had another mistake-free game against the Jaguars and capped it off with a performance that included two touchdown passes to George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk. On third down, Garoppolo was 2-for-4 for 19 yards and a touchdown, converting both for completions into a first down.

Overall, of his 15 completions, seven went for first downs, and several were good throws that were on target and accurate. He looks more decisive and comfortable throwing the ball the last 2 weeks as well. When Jimmy and the offense play mistake-free football, good things happen.

Outlook

The 49ers enter the weekend in the seventh seed due to the Saints losing on Thanksgiving Day. They have a pivotal game and what’s essentially a pseudo playoff game, with every game from here until week 18 each more important than the last.

The Vikings come into this weekend’s game having just beaten the NFC’s #1 seed the Green Bay Packers on a last-second field goal even though it never seemed like a close game to begin with the Packers playing catching up nearly the entire game.

Garoppolo doesn’t have the greatest track record facing a Mike Zimmer defense, throwing four interceptions in his last two outings against them and forcing Shanahan to go into protect mode in the second half of the NFC divisional playoff game in January of 2020.

Unfortunately for the Vikings, they’ll be without defensive end Everson Griffen (non-football illness) and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson (COVID-19 list) for this one and are likely to be without safety Camryn Bynum (ankle).

There’s no reason to expect Shanahan to change up what’s been working with the offense the last two games, especially as the Vikings are missing key pieces along the defensive front. If there was ever a time to remain consistent and efficient, the time is now.