The New York Giants face a depleted San Francisco 49ers team on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. We’re focusing on when the 49ers have the ball here, and San Francisco could be without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (high ankle sprain), and running back Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert.
Nevertheless, the brilliant mind of Kyle Shanahan should never be slept on.
The 2019 49ers established the run in a creative fashion and dominated their way to the Super Bowl where they almost beat the Kansas City Chiefs. The 49ers were second in the NFL averaging 153.5 rushing yards per game, while averaging 4.8 yards per rush with a non-rushing quarterback. They were fifth in the league with time of possession, and eighth in the league in yards per game with 374. The 49ers will likely have a rush heavy game plan, especially if backup quarterback Nick Mullens is playing, so let’s take a look at their rushing attack last week vs. the New York Jets.
49ers rushing attack
The Niners are in 21 personnel and want to run the football to the field, so they motion the outside receiver from the stack pre-snap to the play side for the double lead block halfback zone pitch. Both linebackers are taken out by linemen who climb, the alley defender is picked up by the motioning lead blocker, and the contain defender gets eliminated by true fullback Kyle Juszczyk. From there, it’s all up to one of the fastest players in the NFL, Raheem Mostert, to outrun the Jets to the end zone for an 80-yard score. The scheme and blocking execution on this play worked to perfection for the 49ers.
This is a midfield run by the 49ers where they use deception and incredible play design. The Niners are in 21 personnel and they use pre-snap orbit motion from the field side, and then run a counter play to the weak-side with a trap block from Juszczyk on the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOLOS). The counter gets the entire defense flowing outside but former Giant Alec Ogletree (53) does a great job chipping Juszczyk before he can get to the primary force defender in Marcus Maye (20). The play is blown up, but this is a very good design by Shanahan and company.
Similar to the Giants, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and the Jets run a lot of tight Bear feront, which leaves stretch plays and outside runs as enticing options for the offense. The 49ers are in 21 personnel and run a pitch to the strength. Ogletree over-pursues to get to the C-Gap, leaving a huge void in the middle. Jerick McKinnon (29) sees the cutback lane and attacks into wide open space with a lead blocking receiver from the backside. Defenses must be disciplined with their run fits against the Niners because this offense is too good, and will create great rushing lanes for these running backs, albeit McKinnon seems to be the only healthy back as of now.
Here’s another big play from McKinnon late in the game, this time in the red zone. San Francisco overloads the field with two tight ends in 13 personnel out of the gun. The end tight end acts as if he’s wham blocking an interior defensive lineman, but all of the linemen are being blocked. This drags a defender towards the middle of the field and away from McKinnon’s rushing lane. Terrell Basham (93) takes a wide rushing angle, and Mike McGlinchey (69) does a great job driving John Franklin-Meyers (91) off the line of scrimmage, which puts McKinney in the alley against Neville Hewitt (46), who is too hesitant to contain McKinnon.
I wanted to highlight the spacing and timing from the 49ers receiving options.
The 49ers are in 11 personnel with Jordan Reed (81) in the slot on the hash towards the bottom of your screen. The pre-snap motion shows the Jets hand, they’re in man coverage. In the reduced split to the bottom of your screen, Trent Taylor (15) and Reed are in reduced splits, knowing it’s man coverage, with a ton of space (even more space than imagined with the safety lining up on the goal line - Gregg Williams). At the snap, Taylor releases inside towards the defender covering Reed; this creates unwanted traffic by the defense as both defenders become somewhat tangled. The inside stem by Taylor is followed by an outside stem of Reed, stacking both receivers on top of each other; Taylor goes vertical and Reed goes outside where his defender has absolutely no leverage to cover him because of the spacing/timing of the route combination.
This play obviously did not work for the Niners with Mullens at quarterback, but this is something to expect against man coverage this Sunday in passing situations. The 49ers spread everyone out and go five-wide with a stack to the boundary. The receiver on the line of scrimmage does a delayed release while the receiver off the line of scrimmage releases fast into the covering defender. The receiver running the delayed release disguises his intentions with a subtle outside move to get his covering defender to bite towards the traffic; then the delayed releasing receiver uses the traffic to mask the impending quick slant. This is incredibly difficult to cover because that receiver can either go out or in and the defender has to attempt to protect both options. McKinnon is wide open on the quick slant because of the disguise, but Mullens throws a poor pass and the Jets come away with a turnover.
The Giants coaching staff will have its hands full. There will be creative rushing plays, nuanced route running to manipulate man coverage, and unique route combinations to put defenders into conflict in zone. However, this is the second straight road game for the 49ers on the East Coast, and they’re incredibly beat up. The Giants have been competitive in both losses this season, and they’ll once again have a realistic shot to win this football game.