*30 for 30 Voice* What if I told you, the biggest play of the game was, actually, started with someone lined up on the wrong side of the field?
You don’t have to believe me; just listen to Deebo Samuel, the current league leader in yards, who appeared on Damon, Ratto, and Kolsky on Wednesday to talk about his fast start. When asked about his catch and run, Samuel dropped this bombshell that set up the 49ers' first score of the day with seconds left in the first half.
“You know what’s crazy? Not too many people know this, but I actually lined up wrong, I was supposed to be on the right side, and I ended up on the left, and we didn’t have enough time on the clock for me to get back on the other side of the field, and we just went with the flow, and it just happened.”
That kind of behind-the-scenes insight just about left my jaw on the floor. It’s something you don’t usually hear a player admit, even when the results turn out as positively as this.
Before the play, Deebo Samuel and Trent Sherfield get on the same page about what routes to run, before Jimmy G sends the back in motion to replicate the play concept that was setup on the other side. pic.twitter.com/46fe6NIVd1— Ty Austin (@TyLAustin) September 25, 2021
So, how does this happen? By all accounts, it’s hard enough to operate in Kyle Shanahan’s system when you aren’t flying by the seat of your pants. Deebo further explained it takes an expert’s knowledge of the playbook and communication.
He’s supposed to be between Mohammed Sanu and George Kittle but ended up lined up on the inside of Trent Sherfield. The two immediately understand the mixup, so pre-snap, they give each other a couple of hand signals to adjust their routes.
“Trent, being the pro that he is, knew I lined up wrong, so he had to change his route, and he knew what the concept was, so we just made it happen.”
Guessing what route Sherfield audibled away from would be a fool’s errand, but it’s clear how what he ends up doing helps free up Deebo. He runs a go route that stresses the defense, and specifically the cornerback, vertically. However, it isn’t the only piece that makes this so successful.
Mike McDaniel took questions on Thursday and further broke down the play from his perspective. He pointed out that it wasn’t just the receivers who had to make quick choices under pressure.
“...Jimmy [Garoppolo] specifically knew exactly what was going on, knew his issue, adjusted his technique to compensate for the formation bust and didn’t blink and threw an unbelievable ball between two hook players.”
With the play clock ticking down and not wanting to burn a time out, Jimmy Garoppolo had to put one last piece in place to complete the look that would create enough space for the pitch and catch. JaMycal Hasty started on Garoppolo’s hip in the shotgun, most likely to provide extra pass protection, but he gets motioned out to the left.
Why? He takes the place that Kittle would’ve provided on the other side of the field and mirrors his route to add an extra layer for the linebackers to defend. Next, he runs a quick out, drawing the exactly enough attention from Eric Wilson to allow Deebo to get by him and between Alex Singleton. Then, as McDaniel said, Jimmy threads the tiniest of needles to let his receiver rumble through would-be tacklers.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of this confluence of events. The 49ers were coming off an utterly anemic first half of offense and, finally, started to move the ball after starting on their own three-yard line with a little over four minutes left.
Ten plays and three-plus minutes later, the unit had started to come alive and made it to midfield, but most likely, they’d have to settle for a field goal to tie things up going into halftime. Then, thanks to some bang-bang decisions, the Niners were down in the red zone with three chances to score a touchdown with seventeen seconds left.
I think Mike McDaniel summed it up best.
“Oh yeah. No, it’s one of those fun rollercoasters where you’re like, ‘what is he doing? Oh, no. Oh yes!’ One of those things... So, it was a roller coaster of emotion, especially when he’s threading the needle through two tight defenders and then Deebo spits out across the field.”