Film Room: Wait, How Did the 49ers Score 44 On Jacksonville?

On my timeline at least, and maybe yours too, one game I’ve seen referenced enough for me to keep thinking about it is the Jacksonville Jaguars Week 16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. It was, inexplicably, a shootout, and the 49ers won the day, 44-33.

Does that mean the Jaguars’ defense are a bunch of frauds? Not quite but there are a couple of things from that game we can glean from.

Before looking at how the 49ers offense succeeded, there’s some important context for how the Jags allowed a boatload of points. In a way, pretty similar to how the Steelers’ defense looked “bad” in Week 5. Blake Bortles threw three picks and put the Jaguars’ defense in a tough spot, just as Ben Roethlisberger did on that day.

One of those was returned for a touchdown. So there’s seven right there. Two others put the 49ers deep into Jags’ territory. And finally, a late onside kick San Francisco around midfield, followed up by a 30 yard TD run when Jacksonville put everyone in the box, just like Leonard Fournette’s 90 yard run.

So there’s plenty of context there for why the team gave up more than half the points they did. Still, the 49ers did well to conventionally move the ball and string together some lengthy drives. How did they do it? Two reasons.

1. Playaction and using schemes to really sell the run

2. Simple, spacing concepts to flood zones and out-leverage man coverage

Several times, the 49ers ran simple boots to get guys open in the flat. Two examples of similar concepts. One hits the FB in the flat, the other, the TE runs a banana route from the backside to the flat and in the QB’s vision.

Want to see something more creative? This is fun, something Dave Bryan has mentioned once or twice this week. Fake split zone action and lead run with the fullback, getting the fullback on a wheel down the sideline. Watch how badly Telvin Smith (#50) bites on the run action. Wide open and it goes for 44.

The one issue with this idea? The Steelers run as little playaction as anyone in the league. Hopefully Todd Haley gets an uptick of it Sunday. It’s obviously in the playbook so you’re not adding anything new. Just leaning on it more.

Spacing concepts. I’m not going to show every single one here but the 49ers ran a lot of simple slant/flat and Hank concepts. Quick three step drops so the defense couldn’t plaster. I really like the design here.

This angle doesn’t show it great but it’s a Hank Concept. Curl/flat with the Y sitting down five yards over the center (this was on 3rd and 5). Jacksonville will look to bluff the A gaps with their linebackers, as Myles Jack (#44) bails on the snap and tries to get depth. In doing so, he isn’t able to read and drive on George Kittle running the hank (curl). Kittle sits down between both, makes the catch, and wrestles his way into the end zone.

None of this falls outside the Steelers’ playbook. Which is important when we’re talking about what a defense’s weakness is. If you’re not an outside zone team, even if the defense you’re facing sucks at stopping it, you can’t just start running it. You have to combine what you do well with what the opposition struggles at.

So if I’m Pittsburgh, a little more playaction, continue spacing concepts (Hank is one of their favorites on 1st and 10) and beat man coverage when you get the chance.

About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • Michael Putman

    Should be interesting to see what Haley does. It surely makes sense to run routes and schemes that limit the Jags ability to pressure Ben. I still think we see an unhealthy dose of long developing plays and deep routes. Hopefully they are more successful this time around.

    I really do hope that Tomlin and Haley watch film of teams having recent success against the Jags and try to implement some of those tendencies in the gameplan. We need to structure our game around our opponent, rather than simply try to impose our will.

  • heath miller

    lol one thing i can guarantee you is … they will watch the films .. guaranteed

  • WreckIess

    Honestly, what we were doing in the last game seemed to work well. They moved the ball well against that defense and they kept Ben up right. The issue was the red zone woes(two drives they got it within the 10. Three within the 20. Only 9 points from those drives) and obviously the 5 picks with 3 being flukes(tipped ball to Smith, the uncalled PI by Ramsey on that post to AB, and Juju falling on his route), one being when the game was over, and Ben trying to fit the ball in to McDonald with Ramsey in coverage while getting hit in the chin.

    Not to say Jacksonville can’t beat us, because they already have, but that type of lightning isn’t going to strike twice. Work the ball underneath the zones and get Bell involved this time and it’s an easy victory IMO. We get a lead and then Bortles has to throw more than 14 times, too. Which plays into our hand,

  • Sam Clonch

    Feel like “run more play action” was a comment that was made before week 5 too.

  • JC

    Just put a spy on Bortles ,can’t have him running for more yards then anyone else on his team. We do that and we’re moving on to the AFCCG..For sure IMO!!

  • Jaybird

    A lot of Kittle in those highlights. I wish we took him in the 4th. Sigh

  • pittfan

    Having Gilbert back in front of Campbell will be yet another upgrade over wk5.

  • Rich Stafford

    People have way over estimated this Jags D. They are no where near a great D. Go back and check the games played by truly great D in past. Steelers D in 70s, 85 Bears, 2000 Ravens you will not see 44 in any game and I don’t care about the circumstances. Great D defends a short field period.

  • SfSteeler

    u wanna keep the middle of the D guessing so do we not use more playaction?

  • Ring4Shaz

    Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just trying to get open vs Jax?

  • Ring4Shaz

    Steelers receivers were open all day vs Jacksonville. But Roethlisberger threw 3 horrific passes for INTs, and there was one deflection by a defensive lineman for an INT, and one route where JuJu fell down resulting in INT. But even in that first game, there was all kinds of room for the offense to operate if Ben had been on his game.

  • Ken Krampert

    We did move the ball well , but stalled in red zone, which forced us to throw to much in the second half. We get a decent lead and pound the run in the snow. Take the life out of them.

  • Sdale

    All season.

  • Get_at_Me

    Game planning for a specfic opponent i believe is something Tomlin mentioned in a recent press conference. You cant just blindly play to your strengths without acknowledging what the strengths of the opposing defense are. During the first game, it seemed like the Steelers wanted to impose their will by throwing the ball. If memory serves me, Ben’s INTs came in different ways (2 of which were deflected balls, Ben was getting hit as he threw down the field on 1, 1 was a great play by Ramsey & 1 was an under thrown deep ball near the goal line). They all werent great plays by the individual secondary guys or linebackers, but nice mix of pressure and coverage. Regardless of how they happened, they happened. Generally, you could say that the Steelers underestimated the Jags defense. Steelers, didnt rely on the run game enough esp in the 2nd half. But, sometimes losing to a team humbles you. Theyll play smarter tomorrow esp since the stakes are much higher.

  • Get_at_Me

    Not only redzone woes, but those 5 INTs (2 returned for TDs didnt help). It was literally a perfect storm of poor execution by the Steelers offense & great play by Jags defense. They abandoned the run too early imo opinion too.

  • BurghBoy412

    Ben just needs to keep reading the Defense at the high level that he has been doing and take what they give him in this game. Just like he’s also been doing. Don’t Force Anything!!

  • Get_at_Me

    With the emergence of Juju, Martavis and McDonald healthy, Ben has reliable weapons not named AB at his disposal. As long as he takes whats there, the offense will do just just fine.

  • Brian Miller

    Great article Alex…well written and hopefully like you suggested the Steelers utilize these plays more, since they are already in the playbook…

  • Brian Miller

    A lot of the play action and wheel route plays can work when we have excellent route runners, especially with Bell and Ridley…

  • Chris92021

    How to beat the Jaguars’ defense.
    1. Make sure your QB does not make too many mistakes.
    2. Run the ball and don’t give up on it.

    Really, that’s it. That 49ers game showed me that a QB who does not make too many mistakes and doesn’t try to force the ball into tight spots will have lots of success against the Jaguars. Obviously we are much better than the 49ers. I’ve said in previous threads and I will say it again: Todd Haley is the one guy I am worried about.

  • Brian Miller

    Nice…I like it…and I fully agree..”Todd Haley is the one guy I am worried about.”

  • PA2AK_

    A very underestimated upgrade at that

  • PA2AK_

    He didn’t look good, but it was really 1 maybe two bad throws by Ben to be fair.

  • Chris92021

    I have to agree with D-Will: if Haley calls for just 15 rushes for Bell, he should be fired on the spot. Let’s not forget, we were actually winning 9-7 half way through the 3rd quarter before Big Ben just went into the tank. We were playing badly inside the red zone (what else is new) yet it looked like we had some semblance of control before Haley called one pass after another. I am hoping that Haley has 3 awesome games that lets him get into a head coaching position much like he did in Arizona almost 10 years ago.

  • Brian Miller

    You are right…and our defense was playing well too. You are right, the 3rd quarter the game got out of hand with 3 brutal interceptions, 2 run back for TDs. We easily could have been up 21-7 before that happened, and been running more. No excuse not to run more with Bell and Ridley, and Ridley really does give us a lot of versatility…no reason not to use him like NE did when they had him.

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    It always seems the Steeler OL will struggle the first time they play a 4 man front. Hopefully they figured it out.

  • FATCAT716

    He is not Mike Vick if that’s the only way they can move the ball some of that you gotta live with but he doesn’t scare anyone with his legs. He had an unexpected run game versus the Bills but at the end of the day they scored 10pts enough to beat the Bills but not many other teams

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Amen. Unfortunately I believe there were more forces at play than just Colbert. The Rooneys basically “mandated” that we draft a QB in that 3rd/4th range. And Ben “strongly suggested” we draft James Connor (specifically) at RB. Colbert had to appease the big guns.

    Also, looking back, the draft did not break well for us in the middle rounds. Kareem Hunt RB and Shaquille Griffen CB got drafted just before us in the 3rd round (we were targeting both). And then Montae Nicholson S and Samson Ebukan ILB went right before us in the 4th. But not withstanding all of that we still should’ve taken George Kittle or Jake Butt over Josh Dobbs. Just mind boggling.

    Oh well. At least we got Watt + JuJu.

  • Ed Smith

    Look at the Jags /Bills game. Tyrod Taylor killed Buffalo. Missed 2 open receives in end zone and another one dropped. Had open receivers all day and missed them. As long as Ben plays like the Ben we love, think this offense will be fine.

    As said in another post above – PLAY ACTION!!!

  • Ring4Shaz

    I watched the video this week. Three horrific throws for INTs. One was badly thrown behind the receiver in a crossing pattern (a deadly sin), and 2 others were thrown way over the heads of the receivers downfield with safety coverage to grab the INT behind them.

    In addition, JuJu fell down mid-route causing another INT, and one INT was batted by a defensive lineman directly to the DB.

  • BurghBoy412

    The WR’s had better be ready to fight for the ball in the air. Martavis need to be physical in this game!

  • PA2AK_

    And Poz smoke Conner and disrupted on of those ‘bad throws’. I’m not defending his play in that game, just saying that Ben gets most of the blame for an entire units aweful outing. Comes with the territory, but we can use some perspective there too.

    And I can’t really blame him for hucking it down field when the game was out of hand.

  • Play action effectiveness hinges on getting Bell productive early. If he can repeatedly set up 2nd or 3rd and short and we keep the chains moving, play action will work–especially against wherever in the secondary his runs are stressing.

  • Charles Haines

    Why would the Steelers have drafted a guy with a shredded knee? Bad investment.

  • Definitely true! I can’t recall a game against a 4/3 in which the o-line either dominated or was clearly effective.

  • Jaybird

    Kittle is going to be a REALLY good all around TE. I think he would have put this draft class into the stratosphere if we’d have taken him. But like you said , at least we got JuJu and Watt. Cross our fingers on Conners and Sutton, as they could still make this a blockbuster draft.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Why did we keep Cam Heyward after he tore his pec last year (out for the season)? … oh wait… players heal…

  • MC

    My problem especially this year with Haley has been the lack of play action. We have one of the most dynamic backs in the league, naturally fakimg a hand off will freeze some defenders from time to time. It just seems like a very simple concept that Haley has used too sparingly especially this season.

  • Charles Haines

    Because he was under contract. Did the Steelers DRAFT Heyward with a major injury? No. This why Colbert makes good money and you spew ignorance for free.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    1) You obviously have no idea how the draft works.
    2) You obvious;y have no idea how ACL surgery works.
    3) You obviously have no idea where Jake Butt was/is ranked.
    4) You obviously have no idea that the same Colbert you praise drafted Heath Miller in the 1st round when he was injured.
    5) You obviously have not kept track of my pre-draft evaluations over the last seven years or you would know that I’ve hit on more picks than Colbert.
    6) While I do spew my opinion for free, I would actually pay good money to have you NOT spew your opinion, because it literally hinders my genius to have to explain basic draft principles to people like you.

  • JC

    Ok thanks for reminding me of that. So I will re-phrase that just keep an eye on him!

  • Jeff Papiernik

    Desmond King

  • Charles Haines

    You obviously have no idea that nobody cares what you think or say because you have zero credibility.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    You replied. So obviously you cared.

  • keneyeam

    At least they hold the jaggs to 33.