While an inconsistent running game has been an issue for the San Francisco 49ers, the giant problem has been the poor performance of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Dave Archibald looks at how the 49ers could get both the running game and Kaepernick back on track.
The 49ers clash with the New York Giants on in NFL Week 5. Each team has shown flashes, with San Francisco netting a decisive 20-3 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1 and New York posting back-to-back wins against Washington and Buffalo in Weeks 3 and 4, but each team is looking for more consistent performance in the young season.
The 49ers might be able take advantage of the Giants’ aggressiveness against the run by using boot action away from the run side. The Atlanta Falcons provided a model for this approach in their Week 2 showdown at MetLife Stadium:
The Falcons line up in 21 personnel with a tight end, two backs in the backfield, and receiver Nick Williams (#15) lined up as an H-back. It’s a run-heavy look, and when Atlanta fakes the outside zone run to the right, the Giants pursue the run action. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (#2) bootlegs back towards the left and floats a touch pass to Williams, who tunneled behind the line of scrimmage into the left flat. Williams is wide open and runs after the catch for a 12-yard gain.
San Francisco has used similar concepts at times, mostly with their tight ends. The 49ers use an average of 1.8 tight ends per play, the highest mark in the league, though Vernon Davis’ injury and Vance McDonald’s ineffectiveness might limit that figure in this matchup. Garrett Celek has picked up some of the slack, as his 11 catches represent a career-high and the second-highest total on the 2015 49ers.
Here, the 49ers fake an outside zone run left, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (#7) runs a bootleg back to the right:
Celek mirrors Kaepernick’s action, initially moving as if to block left and then whirling to the right flat, where he is wide open. Kaepernick hits him with a pass and Celek rumbles for a nice 7-yard gain.
Bootleg passes such as those above are nice, easy reads and throws, high-percentage completions for an offense that desperately needs them. They also function as constraint plays, perhaps reducing New York’s aggressiveness against the run and opening things up. If San Francisco can hit on a bootleg pass or two early, they force the Giants’ linebackers to stay at home and respect the the pass, opening things up for Hyde and the running game.
The 49ers need to get the running game going, because the passing attack looks terrible right now. Kaepernick is inaccurate and out-of-control, the receiving corps is subpar, and the pass protection is inadequate. San Francisco will need to recapture their Week 1 form to put points on the board, and that will be a tough task against New York’s stout run defense.
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Dave Archibald knows pass defense, specifically how coverage, the pass rush, excellent cornerbacks, versatile safeties and in-game adjustments can make a big difference.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.