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Top 10 most impressive performances from 22’, No. 4: Deebo Samuel vs the Rams

The countdown wouldn’t be complete without Deebo running through the Rams

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

There are only three sure things in this world. Death, taxes, and Deebo Samuel dominating the Los Angeles Rams.

Their first meeting of the 2022 season was no exception, with the 49ers’ star wideout putting together one of the most spectacular individual efforts of the year.

The stakes are always high when these two division rivals meet, but this contest had a bit more edge for multiple reasons. For starters, this was the first matchup between these two teams since the 49ers’ heartbreaking loss in the NFC Championship. If there were ever a chance to get some revenge for such a devastating defeat, this would be the platform to deliver it.

While moral victories are always uplifting, there was also business that needed to attend to in the present. After a rough start that saw the 49ers drop road games in Chicago and Denver, this game was as close to a “must-win” as you could have four weeks into the season.

Not only did the 49ers fall in danger of starting the year 1-3, they also had the daunting task of back-to-back games in the Eastern Time Zone, which is always a challenge for west coast teams, no matter who the opponents are.

Finally, ESPN broadcasted the game nationally on Monday Night Football. Here was the opportunity for the 49ers to make a statement. To tell the league and all those watching that their stumble out the gate was a fluke and that this team had the makings of a true contender.

What made this performance by Samuel so special was the amount of offense he could generate by himself. Receiving yardage can be a very deceptive statistic at times, as a large total only sometimes equates to a large impact on the game.

Please make no mistake about it; Samuel earned every yard in this game, and for the most part, he accomplished it the hard way.

He finished with 115 receiving yards, with 106 coming after the catch. That’s a net total of just nine air yards on six receptions. Samuel averaged a breathtaking 17.7 yards after the catch per reception in this game, with an average target depth at just 1.9 yards.

The 49ers’ game plan was to pepper Samuel with targets near or behind the line of scrimmage and live or die by the following results. He accounted for nearly half of the Niners’ passing offense in this game, recording more than three times the receiving yardage totals of every single one of his teammates.

I broke down all six of Samuel’s receptions in this game and included a couple of plays that he impacted even when he was not touching the football.

His first reception of the game came on a 2nd & 12 from their own 49-yard line. Samuel motions to the pass strength before the snap. Kyle Juszczyk and Brandon Aiyuk run vertical routes that clear space in the flat for Samuel, allowing him to create yards after the catch.

The gain goes for just seven yards, but the significance lies in the result putting the 49ers into a manageable spot on third down. Two plays later, they found themselves in the end zone, with Samuel’s reception playing a big role in the continuity of the scoring drive:

Samuel kick-started the next 49ers’ drive, taking a crossing route behind the second-level defenders for a 15-yard gain on first down. Rams safety Nick Scott makes what was likely a touchdown-saving tackle:

The defining play from this performance came late in the first half, with the 49ers holding a slim 7-6 lead. Facing a 3rd & 3 from their own 43, San Francisco had to find a way to convert and avoid letting the Rams be the team grabbing the momentum just before the break.

The 49ers dialed up a concept with Samuel running an in-breaking ‘under route’ while Jauan Jennings ran a ‘pick curl’ route from the slot. The intention is to use Jennings’ route to create separation between Samuel and the defensive back covering him to set up a relatively easy throw and catch if all goes according to plan.

Rams cornerback Derion Kendrick did a great job disrupting said plan, sniffing out and avoiding the pick by Jennings before breaking on the ball thrown to Samuel. He nearly got his hands on the ball for a pass breakup, but Samuel was determined to win this rep.

Samuel makes an incredible catch that would have been impressive in its own right had it not been overshadowed by what was to follow. After coming down with it, he put together a highlight reel in the open field, making a handful of Rams defenders miss before bowling over Jalen Ramsey to cap off a 51-yard touchdown:

This play was the embodiment of what makes Samuel such a special player. There are plenty of talented receivers in this league, but nobody is as dangerous with the ball in their hands as Samuel.

He made guys miss, broke tackles, and showcased his most underrated trait. The ability to hit another gear in the open field that very few who play the sport possess.

It also came at a very opportune time,

There was a three-play sequence late in the third quarter that illustrates Samuel’s wide-ranging impact on and off the ball. In this first clip, the 49ers appear to be running some variation of ‘Toss Sift,’ and he does an impressive job sealing off the running lane with a block on the play side.

The next play is a fantastic representation of the kind of gravity Samuel commands even when the ball is not in his hands. With him lined up in the backfield, the 49ers motion Jeff Wilson Jr. to the strong side, selling a run action of a toss to Samuel on the same side.

Instead, they hand off to Juszczyk on the backside of the run action, picking up a solid chunk of yards and getting a fresh set of downs in the process:

The final play of this sequence came on 1st & goal from the Rams’ 8-yard line. The 49ers dial up a screen to Samuel, who gets within inches of crossing the plane before being stopped just short. It took three Rams defenders fighting with all of their might to prevent Samuel from getting into the end zone on this play:

On 3rd & 13 from their own 43, the 49ers were hanging on to an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter. Once again, when the 49ers faced a critical third down, they turned to Samuel to keep the chains moving.

Fail to convert here, and you risk the Rams marching down the field and tying the game you cannot afford to lose. Thankfully for the 49ers’ sake, Samuel ensured that was a scenario they wouldn’t have to worry about.

Shanahan dials up a screen, and Samuel does the rest of the work:

The biggest stars shine brightest in the biggest moments. In front of a national audience, Samuel rose to the occasion in a way that few players could.

Here are his final totals from this game:

6 receptions

115 receiving yards

1 touchdown

105 yards after the catch

17.7 average yards after catch per reception

158.3 passer rating when targeted

I’ll also include the entire countdown of this list up to this point. If you click on any listed below, it will link you directly to the article:

#10 - Brandon Aiyuk @ Atlanta

#9 - Charvarius Ward @ Carolina

#8 - Brock Purdy vs Tampa Bay

#7 - Talanoa Hufanga @ Chicago

#6 - George Kittle vs Washington

#5 - Charles Omenihu vs Seattle

#4 - Deebo Samuel vs Los Angeles Rams

#3 - Coming soon...