The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Heinz Field and while we have some future posts that will dedicated to previewing that game, I thought I would share some of my initial offensive observations from their Monday night win over the Minnesota Vikings.
1 – For starters, the 49ers love to use their tight ends. In fact, they dressed four of them Monday night along with fullback Bruce Miller. According to my count, the 49ers used two or more tight ends on 50 of the 66 plays that they ran against the Vikings. On nine other plays, they used Miller and one tight end and that resulted in them using their 11 personnel just seven times in the game. Six of those seven plays were on third downs, however. Their tight ends also combined to catch seven of the 17 completed passes in the game.
2 – As for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick goes, you should already know by now that he’s not afraid to take off with the football. Monday night he rushed for 41 yards on seven carries and five of those were scrambles. Kaepernick was at his best Monday night when he used playaction as he completed 10 of 12 attempts for 101 yards after faking a handoff. Some of those playaction plays were also designed misdirection roll outs. Of his 14 passing attempts that did not include playaction, he completed just seven of them 64 yards. As far as Kaepernick and his deep passing attempts Monday night, he had just three that traveled more than 15 yards past the original line of scrimmage and none of those were completed. Of his 17 completed passes in the game, 11 of them traveled five or less yards past the line of scrimmage in the air.
3 – 49ers running back Carlos Hyde stole the show Monday night as he rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns on his 26 carries. It’s worth pointing out, however, that 10 of Hyde’s 26 carries came in the fourth quarter and that those runs resulted in 74 yards and a touchdown. Hyde’s four longest runs Monday night came via the outside zone and 16 of his 26 carries went outside of the left guard, and they accounted for 129 of his 168 rushing yards. Hyde is athletic for a running back of his size and build and that was evidenced by the spin move he used to that resulted in a touchdown in the third quarter.
4 – As far as the 49ers offensive line goes, they wore down the Vikings front as the game wore on. It also didn’t hurt that they used multiple tight ends on the line as previously mentioned. They are athletic enough to run the outside zone effectively and Hyde is patient enough to wait for the running lanes to develop. Kaepernick was sacked just once in the game and that’s not too surprising being as he’s not afraid to tuck the football and run. Left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Alex Boone are easily the 49ers best offensive linemen so it’s no wonder why they like running left so much. All five of their starting offensive linemen were penalized Monday night, however, and center Marcus Martin led the group by being flagged twice.
5 – Two of the 49ers wide receivers have great resumes, but they really weren’t a big factor against the Vikings. Anquan Boldin caught four passes for 36 yards while Torrey Smith caught only one pass for 11 yards on three targets. A lot of their infectiveness Monday night can probably be traced back to Kaepernick. Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington combined to play 17 snaps in the game and the latter registered two catches for 8 yards.
6 – Being as running back Reggie Bush left the game with a calf injury early on, it’s hard to tell just how much that affected the 49ers offensive game plan. Bush has always been player that is best used sparingly and out in space so it’s safe to assume that he could’ve had several additional touches Monday night had he not suffered a calf strain. He exited the game after touching the football three times for a total of 8 yards.