With the first preseason game in the rearview mirror, I wanted to debut a new series I will be doing each week. This series will focus on five plays from each game that stood out to me the most while watching the coach’s film.
The most crucial factor will be the impact a given play had on the game, but I also will keep it open-ended to a degree. If Kyle Shanahan calls a really unique play, or DeMeco Ryans dials up an exotic look on defense, it might take precedence over a play with a seemingly bigger impact on the game’s outcome.
5. Pressure by Drake Jackson gives us a glimpse into the future
Drake Jackson is an exceptionally gifted athlete. Based on that alone, it feels like the 49ers hit the jackpot, given how defensive line coach Kris Kocurek has developed players with freakish physical traits.
The 49ers' 2022 second-round pick gave us a preview of what is to come, showcasing his eye-popping athleticism while pressuring Packers quarterback Jordan Love. The Packers call play action faking a run to the left side before Love rolls back to his right. It looked like Love wanted to go to Josiah Deguara on the slide route, but Jackson never gave him a chance.
Jackson identified it was not a run, broke off his backside pursuit, and removed the throwing angle to Deguara while also getting a hand on Love’s arm as he had to let this one go.
Looks like Jordan Love wanted to hit the slide route to #81— Jordan Elliott (@JLeeElliott) August 18, 2022
Drake Jackson never gave him a chance pic.twitter.com/y85xr9g81B
Attacking the quarterback downhill while eliminating a throwing angle in the flat is a highly savvy move for a first-year player. This is not an easy play to make for a defensive end, and Jackson made it look routine. I am excited to see how he develops as the season progresses. Here is the entire play from both angles.
4. Marcelino McCrary-Ball, the newest YAC bro?
On 1st & 14 from inside the 49ers' 20-yard line, the Green Bay offense lined up in trips to the field side. #2 and #3 clear space for an in-breaking route from #1, and Love puts a good ball on the receiver for what should have been a respectable gain.
The ball bounced off the hands of the receiver, however, with the ball hanging in the air for what felt like an eternity as this play quickly turned into two of the most exciting words in football. TIP DRILL!
McCrary-Ball, who comes from a hybrid linebacker-safety role during his time at Indiana, showed good ball skills to track this ball in the air and come down with it before ripping off an impressive return deep into Green Bay’s side of the field. This also kept points off the board for a Packers offense that was set up to have a favorable field goal attempt at the very least.
The interception itself was impressive, but the return stole the show here. McCrary-Ball weaved his way through traffic and left me wondering if Shanahan had a fleeting thought about scheming something up for McCrary-Ball on the offensive side of the ball.
When Kyle Shanahan gets in the lab and draws something up with Marcelino McCrary Ball lined up at tight end >>>> pic.twitter.com/VZ1ahCh8n9— Jordan Elliott (@JLeeElliott) August 13, 2022
3. Ray-Ray leaves Green Bay’s defense in a McCloud of dust
This was a fun one. On the first snap for Nate Sudfeld in this game, Shanahan dials up a Mills concept against a quarter's coverage, with Ray-Ray McCloud running a widened post route.
The dig route Tyler Kroft ran over the middle is the first read in the progression, but the widened post route that McCloud is running is an alert vs. quarters coverage, which Green Bay ran on this play.
McCloud pushes vertical and turns Packers defensive back, Rico Gafford around with a double move at the top of the stem of his route. Gafford falls over while trying to recover and make up ground on McCloud.
Sudfeld identifies the alert vs. quarters and fires a strike to McCloud, who didn’t have a Green Bay defender in the same zip code when he came down with this ball and coasted into the end zone. Great play call, fantastic route, and even better execution all around. You can’t draw it up any better than this.
Tyler Kroft running the dig is the first read in the progression, but Nate Sudfeld is able to quickly identify the alert vs quarters and fires a strike to Ray-Ray McCloud on the post for a TD pic.twitter.com/sfZpFJIuIv— Jordan Elliott (@JLeeElliott) August 18, 2022
2. Samuel Womack’s spectacular debut
The rookie cornerback out of Toledo was undoubtedly the star of this game, bringing down two interceptions and putting himself in the driver’s seat to be the starting nickel cornerback.
Womack’s most impressive rep in this game came on his second interception of the night. Womack is the MEG defender on #2 (man everywhere he goes), meaning it is his responsibility to follow that receiver wherever he may go for the duration of the play.
Womack’s technique while in press was also flawless, prioritizing using his feet to mirror the wide receiver before getting his hands on him. This allows Womack to disrupt the timing of the route while also staying in a position to make a play on the ball.
Incredible rep by Samuel Womack on this play— Jordan Elliott (@JLeeElliott) August 16, 2022
Prioritizes mirroring with his feet before getting his hands on the WR while in press
This allows Womack to disrupt the timing of the route and maintain inside to make a play on this ball for an INT
Really well done by Womack pic.twitter.com/3Anw5kPgDD
Then to top it all off, Womack left us with one more highlight on the return. Love tries to bring Womack down in the open field, and Womack tosses the Packers quarterback aside easily.
The best part of Samuel Womack’s second INT was the way he tossed aside Jordan Love while the Packers QB tried to make a tackle in the open field on the return pic.twitter.com/o4DizsMxN1— Jordan Elliott (@JLeeElliott) August 16, 2022
1. Bombs away to Danny Gray
You had to know this one would take the top spot. The 76-yard touchdown pass from Trey Lance to Danny Gray was by far the most exciting play of this game, and more importantly, it gave us a preview of how lethal this connection can be moving forward.
Shanahan dials up ‘Spartan Smash,’ which will have #1 run a smash route with #2 running a slot fade. Kroft runs the smash route, and Gray runs the slot fade, which isolated him one-on-one with a safety with Green Bay in a single high coverage.
Meaning there was no help over the top for the safety tasked with covering Gray, which gave the speedster the chance to showcase his elite acceleration as he created separation downfield. Lance fires a dart to Gray, who then turns on the burners after catching the ball and races into the end zone for a touchdown.
Trey Lance hits Danny Gray on a “Spartan Smash” concept deep down the left sideline for a 76 yard touchdown— Jordan Elliott (@JLeeElliott) August 13, 2022
Great play design to get the 4.3 WR isolated on a slot fade against a safety while GB was in a single high coverage
Lance puts it on the money and Gray turns on the jets pic.twitter.com/tkp2LvvoXd
This slot fade is something that Lance must be very comfortable throwing because they ran it a ton during the camp practices that I attended. It was a point of emphasis and something they felt comfortable dialing up for Lance during his rookie season too. This was from last year in the preseason against the Chargers. The same exact route concept on this slot fade to Trent Sherfield for a big gain.
The 49ers had success running this exact same route concept in the preseason against the Chargers last year— Jordan Elliott (@JLeeElliott) August 13, 2022
Lance looks really comfortable throwing those slot fades, and I’d expect to see a lot more of it going forward pic.twitter.com/M3DeGGqXqL
As impressive as the throw was and as exciting as the thought of Lance rocketing balls downfield to Gray can be, the thing that was most encouraging on this play happened on the offensive line.
Green Bay’s defense runs a stunt on this play, but watch how Aaron Banks and Jake Brendel are able to pick up this stunt and keep the pocket clean for Lance to step up and make this throw.
A very promising rep for two players who are currently slated to be first-time starters on the 49ers' offensive line.
This play had everything. The franchise quarterback gets to show off his arm, the speedster wide receiver gets to showcase his ability to shred a defense, and the offensive line displays strong communication and the ability to adapt on the fly to a curveball from the defensive front.