Every week I try and do one piece to highlight the work in the trenches by this 49ers team. The difference between a good team and a contender is the ability to win at the line of scrimmage. So this week I highlighted the defensive line for their game-changing work up front, which was a significant reason for the 49ers' victory in this one.
I’m going to start with what I believe was the game's most crucial play on either side of the ball. With 2:31 remaining in the third quarter, Seattle faced a 3rd & long inside the 49ers' 20-yard line. At this point in the game, Seattle only trailed 23-17 and was in a great position to either cut into or take the lead.
The 49ers' defense came out in an overload front, With Samson Ebukam isolated on the right side of the Seahawks' offensive line opposite the trio of Charles Omenihu, Arik Armstead, and Nick Bosa, who overloaded on the left side.
Omenihu is lined up as a 2i to the overload side and is going to work on a stunt with Ebukam that has Omenihu loop around the right tackle that is occupied with Ebukam, who is working the right tackle’s inside shoulder.
This frees Omenihu to get around the edge and get a hand on the football while Geno Smith is stepping up in the pocket, creating a forced fumble and a game-changing turnover that permanently swung the momentum into the 49ers' favor.
The flexibility and versatility Omenihu brings with his ability to kick inside on passing downs has been invaluable for the 49ers this season. It showed itself in a major way in their biggest game of the season so far. Here is the aforementioned play:
Charles Omenihu’s versatility to kick inside on passing downs has been invaluable to the 49ers this season— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) January 17, 2023
Omenihu is a 2i on the overload side of this front, and is going get home on this loop around the RT and get a key forced fumble that was the defining play in this game pic.twitter.com/dvWvOsRXQJ
My apologies for going out of chronological order based on the game clock, but this next one comes from way back in the first quarter on the second play from scrimmage.
Seattle will try and run the ball here on second and short, only to be denied by a Javon Kinlaw tackle for loss in the backfield.
Kinlaw is shaded as a 2i, and he is going to fire into the A-gap and, as a result, prevent the center and right guard from getting to the second level.
This frees up Dre Greenlaw to fill the gap that Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker was trying to run into, and when Walker cuts back to the middle, he is quickly met by Kinlaw, who splits the two offensive linemen to make this tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
Javon Kinlaw with a tackle for loss on the second play of the game— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) January 16, 2023
Kinlaw is shaded as a 2i and prevents the C/RG from getting vertical to Greenlaw who fills the gap Walker is trying to run through
Forces Walker to cut back where Kinlaw splits two OL for the TFL pic.twitter.com/aMgIFUhQFt
What makes this play even more noteworthy is that stuffing Seattle on second down set the stage for the third, and short, that is the next play on this list.
Following the Kinlaw tackle for loss, Seattle faced a 3rd & 2 from their own 28-yard line. Smith dropped back in the shotgun while the 49ers rolled out a defensive front I can’t recall seeing before this season. They had their typical overload to one side of the formation, but they mugged Greenlaw over the B gap, with Ebukam standing up over the left guard well behind the line of scrimmage.
Fred Warner is lined up on the outside shoulder of the tight end which is out wide and ends up bringing pressure off the edge, creating two one on one matchups for Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead on the right side of the offensive line.
Armstead gets isolated on the right guard and dominates this rep by executing a textbook stab lift before getting in the backfield to sack Smith and set the tone early by forcing a Seahawks three and out on the first possession of the game.
Arik Armstead is the most under appreciated player of the Kyle Shanahan era 49ers— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) January 17, 2023
Every time the 49ers find themselves in the playoffs, Armstead delivers without fail
Beats the RG here with a stab lift for his sixth career postseason sack pic.twitter.com/gFFDmvZE1i
This next play happened late in the fourth quarter with Seattle deep in 49ers territory, and while the game was pretty much out of hand at this point, it is an excellent example of just how talented the depth on the 49ers' defensive line is.
Omenihu and Jordan Willis will win their respective reps rushing off the edge on either side. Willis executes a picture-perfect chop move on Seahawks left tackle Charles Cross, while Omenihu beats right tackle Abe Lucas, with an exceptional inside scissor swipe move.
Willis is the first to get his hands on Smith and Omenihu comes in to clean up the pressure and record his second sack of the day.
Simultaneous win by Jordan Willis and Charles Omenihu off the edge from each side results in the latter’s second sack of the game— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) January 17, 2023
Willis beats Charles Cross with a textbook ‘chop’ move and Omenihu beats Abe Lucas with an inside scissor swipe pic.twitter.com/nagXzeAatw
And last but not least, I decided to add a play that wasn’t by a defensive lineman, but it wanted to include it anyway. On 3rd & 2 from the Seahawks' own 45-yard line, Seattle will call a zone read.
With Bosa crashing down off the end, Smith decides to keep, with a tight end lined up in the backfield moving across the formation to be the lead blocker for Smith in the event that he kept on that read.
Because the 49ers are in man coverage, safety Tashaun Gipson is going to follow 84 across the formation after the play fake. What happens next is a tremendous display of awareness and instinct by Gipson.
As he is moving laterally with the tight end, Gipson is going to notice that Smith is rolling to his left off of this play fake with the ball tucked in his left arm, which all but eliminates the possibility of Smith throwing to the tight end in the flat that Gipson is presumably responsible for.
With the threat of the pass being taken away, Gipson breaks off the course he had towards the tight end and fires into the backfield to tackle Smith behind the line of scrimmage and force the Seahawks to have their second three and out in a row to start this game. Extremely heady play by a veteran defensive back who has been an incredible addition to this 49er secondary this season.
Tremendous awareness by Tashaun Gipson on this 3rd & short— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) January 17, 2023
End crashes down so Geno Smith keeps, man coverage so Gipson follows 84
Gipson notices that the ball is tucked in Smith’s left hand (meaning he’s not going to throw it) breaks towards Smith & brings him down for a loss pic.twitter.com/ZuLgKvSin4