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49ers offensive tendency report: The Juice is worth the squeeze

Taking a look at the 49ers personnel usage through two games

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The 49ers spent all offseason preparing as if Brock Purdy would be their starting quarterback. Head coach Kyle Shanahan also has the luxury of having one of, if not the best, running backs in the league at his disposal.

On the other side of the ball, the team transitioned from DeMeco Ryans to Steve Wilks as defensive coordinator. Ryans was known for running mostly zone coverage. The 49ers ran zone coverage 64 percent of the time in 2022, which was the fourth-highest in usage rate in the NFL. Compare that to a 21 percent man-to-man coverage usage, which was the fourth-lowest.

We’re only two weeks in, but I wanted to get an idea of how the Niners tendencies are, and track them as the season goes along. The numbers and stats that are referenced are courtesy of Sports Info Solutions. They are excluding garbage time and quarterback kneels, so the data isn’t skewed.


Motion, Motion, Motion

As long as he’s calling plays, Shanahan will be at or near the top when it comes to using pre-snap motion. Last year, the 49ers used motion pre-snap 70 percent of the time, which was the second-highest rate in the NFL.

Unsurprisingly, no team has motioned more before the ball is snapped this year than the Niners, as their usage rate for motion is an astounding 84 percent. Essentially, it’s a surprise when there isn’t pre-snap movement.

Squeezing every ounce out of Juice

The 49ers know what they are good at, and they stick to that. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk is more like a Swiss Army Knife as he’s capable of lining up in spots. Sometimes, he’s an inline tight end. Other times, a slot receiver. Occasionally, Juszczyk will line up out wide as a receiver. Then, of course, as a fullback.

In 2022, the 49ers used 21 personnel (2 running backs, 1 tight end, 2 wide receivers) on 35 percent of their snaps, which was the second-highest rate of any team in the NFL. San Francisco is generally near the bottom of the league every year when it comes to using three wide receiver sets (11 personnel). They were 29th last season.

Through two weeks, we’re seeing a significant uptick in 21 personnel:

49ers personnel

Personnel Snaps Usage % Usage % Rank Success % Success % Rank
Personnel Snaps Usage % Usage % Rank Success % Success % Rank
21 30 59 1 53 6
11 17 33 30 47 6
12 4 8 28 50 11

Jauan Jennings is more than capable as a WR3, but it’s evident that Shanahan believes he can control the defense more when Juszczyk is on the field, and likes the 49ers matchups better, too.

As you can see, the offense doesn’t struggle to move the ball, regardless of which personnel they’re using. If anything, being sixth in success rate using 11 personnel should serve as motivation to run more three wide receiver sets.

Trust in Brock

Going back to 2021, when Jimmy Garoppolo was under center, the 49ers ran play-action 20 percent of the time for their passing game. That number was 22 percent in 2020 (the 12th most), and 20 percent again during the Super Bowl run in 2019, which was the ninth-highest rate.

Last year, that play-action number dipped to 15 percent. And this year, it’s at an all-time low under Shanahan. The 49ers have only run play-action on four plays, which comes to 8%, the second-lowest figure in the league.

That tells me that Kyle is confident in Brock Purdy running his offense and trusts him to be a dropback passer.

Fifty percent of the 49ers passing plays are “quick game,” or three-step drops. Their success rate is 57 percent, which is sixth in the NFL. Purdy, who has been in shotgun 63 percent of the time, appears to be going to the correct spot with the ball and getting it out on time.

That’s where Juszczyk’s versatility comes into play. The Niners can keep the opposing defense in their base package, have a third linebacker on the field, and create 1-on-1 matchups with their star players.

San Francisco is facing a stacked boxed on 55 percent of their running plays, which is the third-most in the league. That’s why players like Brandon Aiyuk are receiving so many opportunities.

We’ll be back with the defensive side of the ball tomorrow, and continue to track the usage on both sides of the ball every few weeks to see whether the 49ers opponents dictate a change in personnel.