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.