After putting up 10 points in the first half for the second consecutive week, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan needed a spark coming out of halftime. But, set to receive the second-half kickoff trailing by six, the 49ers couldn’t afford not to come away with points and squander a great opportunity to gain some momentum.
Much of the recent talk around the surplus of elite skill position players on the 49ers' offense has centered around how to efficiently get touches for all of these players, as there is just one football to go around.
By incorporating this orbit motion before the ball is snapped, Shanahan was able to use the threat of his dynamic weapons to put stress on the opposing defenses, despite not having the football in their hands.
Shanahan and the 49ers have mastered the art of moving defenders before the snap with motion, and the addition of McCaffrey has now given this staff two different All-Pro players to incorporate into the eye candy that they are selling defenses before the snap.
It’s important to remember that in the NFL, a fraction of a second in reaction time can make all the difference in the world regarding the outcome of a given play. The success of a given play call could ultimately rest on the ability to move a defender just a few feet to their right or have their eyes drift for just a moment as they account for this pre-snap motion.
On the first play of the second half, the 49ers' offense came out in 11 personnel with McCaffrey flanking Garoppolo in the gun lined up on the strong side of the formation.
Before the snap, Deebo Samuel will motion across the formation from his starting position as the number one wide receiver in a stack to the weak side and move from left to right behind Garoppolo toward the pass strength.
As Samuel motions, the Chargers' defense reacts, and as a result, multiple defenders move laterally in the same direction as Samuel. This is where it makes a massive difference. McCaffrey is going to run a rail route to the weak side, which now has a gigantic vacated hole due to the way Samuel caused the defense to shift toward the pass strength before the ball was snapped.
Kyle Shanahan’s use of orbit motion with Deebo Samuel & Christian McCaffrey against the Chargers was masterful— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) November 16, 2022
Watch how the orbit motion with Samuel moves the 2nd level defenders before the snap
That creates space for McCaffrey on this rail route that goes for a 21 yard gain pic.twitter.com/siUXnpNp5O
This play went for 21 yards and gave the 49ers an explosive play to jumpstart their first drive coming out of the break.
On the next play, Shanahan again opted for the orbit motion before the snap, but this time it was McCaffrey who was the motion man, while Samuel flanked Garoppolo in the backfield.
Once again, when McCaffrey motions across the formation, the Chargers defense moves laterally to mirror his movement toward the pass strength. The 49ers ran “GY Counter” on this play, which has George Kittle and Aaron Banks pulling from left to right.
The handoff to Samuel is ran towards area of the field that is now left vacant after the motion by McCaffrey moved the defenders before the ball was ever snapped. Following his pullers, Samuel can pick up 15 yards on this carry.
On a drive where the 49ers were desperate to find a rhythm on offense, they were able to get two big chunk plays as a result of this orbit motion.
This chess game being played before the snap is going to be fascinating to watch with Samuel and McCaffrey going forward, as both of these players command so much respect from opposing defenses that the mere threat of either one getting a touch helps open up areas of the field for their teammates.