After watching the most complete offensive game of football that the 49ers played all year, one thing became clear: The blocking by every possible metric was on point.
According to PFF’s grades, they were the only unit in the league to earn over 80 in both pass and run blocking as a unit. In addition, the rushing attack posted a massive jump from 16th in run DVOA all the way to third. And, most importantly, an array of cut-ups that underlined the ferocious effort to erase defenders from the field began to flood the Internet.
I don’t know how many other fanbases have embraced the practice of fawning over good clean run blocking by its lineman, fullback, tight ends, and wide receivers, but I’d have to imagine the Faithful are near the top of the most hyped for it. Almost immediately post-victory, a deluge of clips hit the timeline to a chorus of adoring cheers.
Some of this must come from the philosophy of Kyle Shanahan’s outside zone scheme. I mean, if you aren’t excited about the successful execution of his run play designs, I don’t know what else you’re going to enjoy about this team.
I assume the rest comes from some combination of watching the subtle yet smashmouth nature of players possessing the body control, strength, and speed to not just perform what’s required of them but to make it look routine.
Given the plethora of plays to choose from, I wanted to highlight my three favorite displays of, as George Kittle would say, “Moving a man from point A to point B against his will…”
DEEBO SAMUEL 83 YARD SCREEN PASS
When the book on this season is written, this play deserves an entire chapter. It changed the momentum of a game, but more so, it seemed to stop the growing avalanche of an entire month’s bad juju.
In the first half, the offense mustered four field goal attempts, only three made, and were looking dead in the water on 3rd and 20, deep in their own territory, down a touchdown to start the second. Deebo Samuel, the most reliable offensive contributor by far, had even notched two drops early in the game. But when you need a play, you put the ball in the hands of your playmakers and let them do the rest.
When asked about the catch-and-run, Samuel immediately praised his blockers. “It all starts with the O-line. As you can see, it was just a little quick pop screen, the whole left side of the offensive line has to get out and be lead blockers, and I was just following them.”
He’s not wrong.
Take a look, and you’ll see two linemen, in particular, who helped spring Samuel for the long gain. First, and unsurprisingly, Trent Williams performs a feat of athleticism that’s shocking and completely common for the league’s best left tackle.
He’s so fast that he actually outruns the defense and has to adjust by spinning backward and contorting his body to take the linebacker out of the action. If he misses, the scamper could’ve been snuffed out before it even started.
The next big man who deserves a heck of a lot of credit is, obviously, Alex Mack. The 36-year-old vet gets himself twenty yards downfield and does not miss. His block on the safety is the moment when this whole thing goes from good to great. Deebo easily sidesteps the collision and bounds into open grass, tacking on another 60+ yards and nearly a touchdown.
Also, quick shout out to Brandon Aiyuk, who neutralized his man on the outside and played an equally important role.
ELIJAH MITCHELL TD PUSH
Let’s break this up with a quick, fun one. This is just a total muscle play by the offensive line, who realize that Mitchell isn’t done churning his legs and do everything in their power to get him over the goal line. It’s the kind of play that you could put a sepia filter on, add the old NFL Films music to, and it would look like it is straight out of the 1950s.
EVERYONE pushed Elijah Mitchell in to the go-ahead TD— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) October 31, 2021
Shanahan commended the effort, saying, “you could see how important it was to all 11 guys out there,” and there’s no denying it. If there’s one play that could define the mindset of this team and what it needs to be going forward, this would be it. Blocking in Shanahan’s scheme requires a coordinated attack. Usually, there’s more choreography to it, but this worked just as well.
It might seem silly to throw the limelight on guys for this play, but there are a couple worth mentioning. First, look at how quickly Daniel Brunskill explodes to the second level and clears a path in the middle of the field. Then, he blows Roquan Smith off his spot and leaves him helplessly, trying to stop the pile from the outside by the end.
The next guy is Mike McGlinchey. The right tackle leads the way for Mitchell, and his force keeps the play alive much longer than it has any right to be. If it weren’t for him, there’s a good chance that Alex Mack, who actually falls, recognizes the party’s still on and gets up to keep fighting, wouldn’t have entered the fray. Just tremendous work across the board.
ELIJAH MITCHELL 4TH Q 39 YARD RUN
With 4:24 left on the clock, the Niners, up eight, needed to get down the field and get one more score to put the contest out of reach completely. By this point, the offense had rounded into shape and began to look unstoppable. Shanahan decided to kick off the victory-clinching drive by returning to a play he called way back in the first quarter.
The tremendously gravel-voiced Brain Baldinger pointed this out, and I highly recommend watching his analysis below.
.@49ers rushing attack behind @JuiceCheck44 @EliMitch15 in 1st Q and 4th Q. Same play, Same Blocking, same results. When this gets rolling; the #Niners get rolling! #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/Yltqu6dH4b— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 3, 2021
Just like the first go-around, the Niners executed beautifully and ripped off a chunk gain that eventually set up the game-icing field goal. This play is just an absolute feast for the eyes when it comes to textbook blocking. There are so many different places to look that one video can’t cover it.
First, to piggyback on Baldinger’s point, Kyle Juszczyk lays the groundwork here for the toss crack to take off. Getting sent in motion allows him to gather enough speed to help Charlie Woerner dispose of the defensive end. He actually has so much forward momentum. He knocks down Woerner, as well, but more on that later. Then, Juice continues downfield and successfully stops the cornerback in his tracks.
Right next to that skirmish, Deebo Samuel, who you might recognize from earlier, plays a crucial role in this play. Lined up to the outside, it’s his job to crack back into a defender who’s pursuing from the middle. That’s what makes this a toss crack play. He goes one-on-one with Roquan Smith and does just enough to impede his pursuit. It’s a small piece of the puzzle, but one that could be the difference between a three-yard loss and a massive gain.
Alright, back to Charlie Woerner, who’s been the blocking replacement for George Kittle in his injury absence. He’s stepped up in the last two weeks, earning the most snaps of his career in back-to-back games. On a play like this, it’s easy to see why.
Right off the bat, he handles his assignment with a little help from Juice and goes down to the ground in the process. The presence of mind and effort to get back up and reassert himself in the fracas down the field is otherworldly. He runs alongside Mitchell for a few yards before making contact with, count ‘em, one, two, three, four, five Bears. He’s disrupting lineman, linebackers, corners, and safeties, oh my, all on the same play. That’s how you get on the field and stay on the field.
Finally, let’s zero in on Brandon Aiyuk, who starts lined up all the way on the other side of where the action is headed. This week seems to mark the beginning of his resurgence, and it appears to have been sparked by his participation in run blocking.
He works himself all the way across the field, avoiding traffic along the way, to land a block on the safety that easily adds fifteen yards to the play. Not only was his recognition of where to be impressive, but his commitment was also fully on display. He sticks to his man, bullying him from midfield to the other side of the 40- yard line.
Then, the cherry on top, as Mitchell goes down, you can see Aiyuck celebrate the manhandling by putting his head down and pumping his arms a little harder. When this got pointed out on social media, Deebo Samuel commented that they take pride in that aspect of the game as much as any other. That should tell you everything you need to know about this team.