The 2022 season will soon be a distant memory as the 49ers report to training camp later this month. Before we turn the page entirely on the year that was, I wanted to highlight some of the things that stood out to me the most.
While the campaign had a very anti-climactic ending, there was plenty to celebrate. So for the next couple of weeks, I will highlight a variety of things as we toast another year of 49ers football that has come and gone.
To kick off this series, I wanted to highlight the backbone of this team, the defensive front. Everything starts with the success they can have up front, and 2022 left behind a beautiful canvas of the work they did in the trenches all year.
I will do a couple of pieces highlighting the defensive line, but this first one will focus on something particular. Stunts.
Among the many areas the 49ers top-ranked defense excelled last season, their ability to create confusion and misdirection with stunts and twists up front were exceptionally effective.
I picked three I enjoyed watching, particularly because two got Fred Warner involved. Anytime you can showcase the skill set of the best linebacker in the league, you jump at the opportunity.
Let’s start with this one from their Week 4 triumph over the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football. On a 2nd & 3 from their own 40, the Rams’ offense comes out empty in an 11-personnel look.
The 49ers defense counters with an overloaded wide-9 front, with three defenders on the left side of the Rams offensive line. Nick Bosa lines up in the 9 technique, Charles Omenihu is in the 4i, and Arik Armstead is a 2i.
On the other side of the line, Samson Ebukam is lined up in the 7-technique, with Fred Warner a couple of yards off the line of scrimmage, shaded over the right guard.
Armstead loops around to the C-gap on the outside of the right tackle, Ebukam attacks the B gap on the right side, while Warner loops inside to the B-gap between the left tackle and left guard.
This stunt is designed to widen the B-gap on the left side, with Bosa occupying the left tackle while Omenihu attacks the left guard’s inside shoulder through the A-gap. That is exactly what they could accomplish, but only one thing prevented Warner from getting to the quarterback. Omenihu beat him there.
With a textbook rip move, Omenihu storms through the A-gap to get home and bring down Stafford:
Stunt gets Fred Warner through the B gap, but Charles Omenihu beats him to the QB with a textbook rip move pic.twitter.com/1XGc5IW0Hy— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) July 14, 2023
They went back to the well with this look later in the season during a week ten showdown with the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday Night Football. On 3rd & 8, from the 49ers’ 44-yard line, the Chargers come out in an 11-personnel package.
They motion the running back out of the backfield, creating an empty look almost identical to the one the Rams ran back in week 4. The only difference is the running back and tight end are flipped this time.
There are a couple of differences in the personnel on the field as well. Kevin Givens, Kerry Hyder Jr., and Drake Jackson will be involved this time. Givens slots in at the 4i, Hyder Jr. is the 2i, and Jackson is the 7-technique. Bosa is the 9 technique, and Warner is mugged over the A gap on the left side of the line of scrimmage.
Hyder Jr. loops across to the C gap outside of the left tackle while Jackson attacks the B gap on the inside shoulder of the left guard.
This stunt is designed to get Warner through the B-gap on the right side of the Chargers’ offensive line. Givens attacks the A-gap between the center and right guard while the right tackle engages with Bosa.
This widens the gap between the right guard and the right tackle. Warner flies through this open space to get pressure on Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who is forced out of the pocket and makes an errant throw while rolling to his left to escape the 49ers defenders bearing down on him:
Effective stunt to get Fred Warner through the B gap to register this pressure— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) July 14, 2023
Givens: 4i - attacks A gap between C/RG
Hyder Jr.: 2i - loops all the way around to LT
Jackson: 7T - engages inside shoulder of LG in B gap
Bosa: 9T - C gap RT
Warner: Mugged A - loops into B gap pic.twitter.com/KwIu3xwln6
This final one might have been my favorite from the entire season. It came in the 49ers’ thrilling week 14 win over the Miami Dolphins. It didn’t have as many moving parts as the previous two, but it highlights the value of cohesion that is impossible to quantify in a box score.
On 3rd & 8 from their 39-yard line, the Dolphins’ offense comes out in an 11-personnel look. Raheem Mostert motions out wide from the backfield, creating an empty look—the 49ers’ defense counters with an overloaded front, a staple of their defense.
Shaded over the left side of the Dolphins’ offensive line, Armstead is the 2i, Omenihu is the 4i, and Bosa is the 7-technique. On the other side, Ebukam is the 9 technique, while Warner is mugged over the B gap between the right tackle and right guard.
Warner and Ebukam will rush straight ahead on the right side, engaging in a one-on-one matchup with the right guard and right tackle, respectively. On the overload side, Armstead attacks the A gap while Omenihu attacks the B gap.
This stunt is designed to widen the A gap between the center and left guard, creating space for Bosa to loop inside and have a clear path toward the quarterback. While Bosa ends up with the sack on this play, the real difference-maker is Armstead.
As he attacks the A-gap, he can hook the center’s arm with a rip move. The leverage and power he generates with this move creates a massive void in the A gap for Bosa to charge through and sack Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa:
One of my favorite reps of the 2022 season from the 49ers defensive line— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) July 13, 2023
Wide-9 with an overload to the strong side
Arik Armstead hooks the center’s arm with a rip move and widens the A gap
That clears space for Nick Bosa to loop inside on this stunt
Poetry in motion pic.twitter.com/fDltdvFaYC
My next article in this series will also focus on the defensive line, but this time with a bit more of an emphasis on the big guys in the middle. Stay tuned for that one coming early next week.