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Best of the best from the 49ers 2022 season: Red zone touchdowns

Nothing is better than scoring 6

San Francisco 49ers v Chicago Bears Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Today’s look back at the 2022 season focuses on something everyone can agree is fantastic. Touchdowns. More specifically, touchdowns scored in the red zone.

I picked a few plays that stood out to me and explained why they succeeded. Let’s start with the first touchdown of the 49ers 2022 season...

Deebo Samuel six-yard touchdown run @ Chicago

The 49ers may have only scored one touchdown in their season-opening loss, but it was a touchdown to remember.

On 2nd & Goal from the Bears’ six-yard line, the 49ers came out in an 11-personnel grouping with Deebo Samuel lined up in the backfield to the left of Trey Lance in a shotgun look.

The play design looks very similar to ‘30-31 Wag’, a run-pass option with a built-in screen. Chicago’s defense showed a two-over-two look to the boundary, with an overhang outside Ross Dwelley in the slot.

Due to this being an unfavorable look to throw the screen against, Lance likely eliminated this option before the ball was even snapped. That left him to focus solely on making the right decision on a zone read exchange with Samuel.

Bears defensive end Robert Quinn steps down, which is the key Lance reads to give this one off to Samuel, who finished off his run by bowling over Eddie Jackson at the goal line for a 49ers touchdown:

I included this one because it highlights the variance that Kyle Shanahan envisioned when projecting how Trey Lance would fit into this offense. The threat of him running adds so much stress to a defense already being pushed to its limits by the scheme.

It also shows how special of a player Samuel is and gives a preview of what is to come in a year, where he has made it clear he is looking to take his play to another level.

Jimmy Garoppolo connects with Brandon Aiyuk in Mexico City

These were the first points on the board for San Francisco’s beat down of their division rival south of the border. On 3rd & Goal from the five-yard line, Shanahan dials up a concept from their ‘Cheetah’ play call, a staple of his red zone offense.

The 49ers offense comes out in an 11-personnel look with Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jauan Jennings to the pass strength. Aiyuk is in the slot with Samuel to his left out wide and Jennings to his right.

Samuel runs a “Now” route, a slant that breaks inside one yard past the line of scrimmage. Aiyuk is running “Stick China,” which looks like a stick route but has the receiver break down and burst inside after taking three steps out of their break to the outside. Jennings runs what appears to be a flag route, helping to clear space for Aiyuk when he breaks back inside on his stick china route:

This one made the cut because it exemplifies what makes this offense so dangerous. The scheme puts these players in a position to maximize their abilities to the fullest, and Aiyuk executed his route to perfection. It makes something that is anything but easy look like a walk in the park.

Garoppolo finds Kittle in the back of the end zone in Los Angeles

This came from the 49ers’ statement win over the Rams in Los Angeles during week eight. On 3rd & 3 from the Rams’ seven-yard line, the 49ers come out in a 21-personnel look.

The play call fakes a run action to the right side, with Garoppolo rolling back to his left with a hi/lo route combination to choose from on that side. Christian McCaffrey is the primary read, running a “short flat,” and George Kittle is second in the progression running a “low cross.”

McCaffrey’s gravity is on full display on this play, as the Rams defense swarms towards him in the flat, effectively taking away Garoppolo’s first read. That wasn’t an issue. He was able to move to his second read and deliver a layered throw toward the back pylon, hitting Kittle for a touchdown:

I included this one because it shows how impactful McCaffrey’s presence is to create opportunities for others on this offense. It also was a tremendous connection between Garoppolo and Kittle, hopefully, it gives you a chance to reminisce on the many that occurred between the two over the last half-decade or so.

Purdy Mania is born

The focus of this last one isn’t on the play design but rather on the symbolism behind the result. Heading into week 13, the 49ers were rolling on a four-game winning streak that saw Garoppolo playing arguably the best football of his career.

They looked like a bonafide contender, and 49ers fans had every reason to believe this team could beat anyone who stood in their way. And then, in a moments instance, that optimism instantly turned to worry as Garoppolo was carted off with an ankle injury that would ultimately be the end of his season and time with the team.

After losing two starting quarterbacks in the same season, the fate of this championship-caliber roster now rested in the hands of Brock Purdy, who was selected with the last pick in the draft just six months prior.

It was a tense and harrowing moment coming to that realization, but before it fully resonated, Purdy gave 49ers fans the best gift you could give anyone—something to believe in.

The 49ers marched deep into Dolphins territory, trailing 7-3 while facing a 1st & goal from the Miami three-yard line. They came out in a 21-personnel look with Samuel, Aiyuk, and Kyle Juszczyk lined up to the pass strength on the right side.

Samuel and Aiyuk set picks on Miami defenders to free up space for Juszczyk in the flat. Purdy fakes a handoff to McCaffrey before turning to his right and firing the ball to a wide-open Juszczyk, who joyously hopped into the end zone to give the 49ers the lead:

On the surface, it may seem like a routine touchdown, a throw and catch that any pair of NFL players should be able to execute in their sleep. However, for those who felt the gut-wrenching pain at the thought of losing yet another season to horrendous injury luck, this play sparked a glimmer of hope and laid the foundation for an unprecedented run with Purdy under center to close the season.