Word of Muth

Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Cool Design, Awful Execution

by Ben Muth

I didn't watch the 49ers-Rams game live on Sunday, but I was generally aware of how it was going from in-game updates. San Francisco turned it over a bunch, got a punt blocked, and lost in a blowout. That's what Terry Bradshaw was telling me, and Terry nailed it. That's pretty much what happened, but I will say I had a lot of fun watching this game back on tape. Way more fun than I thought I would have based off of what I knew going in anyway.

In this game, San Francisco gave me a little bit of everything I need to write a column. Creative concepts, solid execution (at times), wild mental mistakes, and displays of physical dominance (from L.A., but still). So, let's get right to the GIFs.

via Gfycat

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I wanted to give you both angles so you can see the what the wide receiver up top does. This is outside zone where the tight end (actually wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, 84) cracks back and the fullback (Kyle Juszczyk, 44) leads out. I'm sure people have run this before, but it's the first time I've seen it. It's genius if you can trust your wide receiver to get an OK block on the edge player, which San Francisco gets here.

This play is there, and could've been a really nice gain, but one of the running backs screwed up. Someone took a terrible angle and I don't know who, but I do know that the two running backs' footwork and angles are incompatible. Either the ballcarrier, Alfred Morris, needs to take a wider angle to get outside the cornerback (or at least seriously threaten the outside), or Juszczyk is taking way too wide of an arcing angle and needs to come downhill/inside-out like on a toss crack-type play. This play could've worked either way, but the backs need to be on the same page one way or the other. As it is, the corner beats Juszczyk across his face and scares Morris back into a bunch of guys who were blocked but could still make a tackle if you run right into them. Awesome scheme that didn't pay off.

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The last play was a concept I haven't seen before; this play is a concept I used to see a ton of (and even ran a lot of) but has gone out of vogue a bit in recent years. I've always liked it, particularly in the red zone from like the 15 to the 5. We always called it a sudden screen and it was really a popular play in the early 2000s. Reggie Bush killed teams with this at USC. It makes sense that it's making a comeback this year because Jon Gruden is back in the league and this screen is based off of Spider-2 (or Spider-3 in this case) protection.

Spider-3 is a full slide protection where the fullback bluffs at the edge defender to slow him down before releasing to the flat. The halfback comes in and blocks (or cuts) the edge right behind him. The entire offensive line slides away from the backs. The screen works great because the edge defender has to deal with so much stimuli in a short amount of time. The fullback fakes at him, the quarterback is half-rolling to him (so close to being sackable), and the back will usually chip him outside before rolling inside for the pass. That's a lot to sort out and then sniff out a screen. Here, the edge looped so far outside that the back didn't have to touch him.

It's a great play design, but left tackle Joe Staley (74) still has to make it go. This play can get screwed up by a 3-technique who has a decent view of the tackle releasing and the back sitting just outside him. But Staley shoves Aaron Donald (99) so far inside before climbing that he won't be able to see anything. Then Staley also does a great job of blocking the linebacker (Cory Littleton, 58). Great design, great execution.

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This is cool design, awful execution. This is set up to be speed option with the fullback and the halfback after the handoff. So Juszczyk would be the quarterback, basically. You can tell by the halfback's demeanor/pitch relationship and also how Juszczyk was trying to carry the ball that this was option all the way. Plus, they left an edge guy unblocked for Juszczyk to read. This is a cool concept that might be too cute for its own good, but I dig it. You just can't have your guard (Mike Person, 68) get killed by Aaron Donald. But as the 49ers would learn many times on Sunday, it's not just trick plays that Donald blows up.

The 49ers are running a lot of neat concepts and I think it's helping them move the ball a little when there isn't a whole lot of firepower on the offense. Still, this is the second San Francisco game I've watched where mental mistakes are very prevalent and obvious. It makes you wonder if maybe they have too many concepts and aren't focusing on executing fewer plays with less mistakes.

via Gfycat

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This is the second time in two games I've covered where Juszczyk has made this exact mistake, a mistake where he's trying to get out on his checkdown before making sure his linebacker isn't coming. I know the 49ers signed him to be a Swiss Army knife-type guy, but it might be time to fold the pass-protection widget back down for good. You can't keep letting linebackers get free runs at the quarterback so you can release on your swing route one second quicker.

via Gfycat

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Hey, sometimes you succeed in spite of yourself. It's hard to have a successful outside zone play where your play-side offensive tackle goes the wrong way, but here it is. Staley is a veteran and I'm sure he just heard the wrong thing in the huddle, but weird stuff like this seems to happen a lot for San Francisco. Stuff like center Weston Richburg snapping the ball early and causing and fumble. Just enough brain farts to put you behind the chains and kill drives. It's hard enough to move the ball in the NFL without shooting yourself in the foot because of guys like Aaron Donald.

via Gfycat

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That's Donald using a big dude (Richburg, 58) to sack a smaller dude (C.J. Beathard, 3). Obviously, Donald is really good and he's going to be tough to block even if you do everything right, but the 49ers make it too easy for him here. To me, it looks like the 49ers are so worried about a potential twist that they aren't ready to just try to block Donald. Left guard Laken Tomlinson (75) seems to be feeling for Donald with his inside hand, but has his eyes on the defensive end. So he never really stops or even slows down Donald's initial charge, and now Donald has a huge head of steam. You'd like to Richburg hold up firmer once Donald does come inside, but Tomlinson really left Richburg out to dry here.

via Gfycat

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Oof. This is Donald and Michael Brockers (90) beating two guys to meet in the middle and make a C.J. Beathard sandwich. We could talk about Mike McGlinchey's (69) second step being too big and how it crossed him up, we could talk about Tomlinson taking a false step/stepping in the bucket and taking too flat of an angle, but really this is just getting beat by better football players. Brockers and Donald are better than McGlinchey and Tomlinson at this point in their careers and all the cool concepts in the world aren't going to change that.

Comments

6 comments, Last at 29 Oct 2018, 11:32am

1 Re: Word of Muth: Cool Design, Awful Execution

by jtr // Oct 26, 2018 - 1:19pm

What do you think Richburg's assignment is in that second-to-last play? That the left guard is so aggressive at sliding to the left makes me think that the protection is sliding that way. But Richburg's intitial steps are mostly backwards, like he's still trying to figure out who to block. He shouldn't really be worried about the mike linebacker because that guy is 7 yards deep and pretty clearly in his coverage squat. Seems to me like the two of them aren't on the same page.

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2 Re: Word of Muth: Cool Design, Awful Execution

by Joseph // Oct 26, 2018 - 1:43pm

So, I have a question about the first play reference in the article.
It almost looks like the FB, Kyle J, reads that the CB #22, who should be "setting the edge", has come too far upfield and inside. So, he looks to give the CB a shove with his right arm to pin him inside where he can't get to Morris, and then proceed to continue to lead block further down the field. He is expecting Morris to read that #1--one CB motions across the formation to mirror the guy he is covering; #2 that the blocking is set up GREAT for this defensive formation; #3 that in actuality, that edge defender gets sucked inside; and #4, THAT THERE ARE TWENTY YARDS OF GREEN GRASS if you just cut to the outside! Seriously, if Morris cuts it outside, he may score if Kyle J can put a halfway decent block on the free safety.
Maybe I am wrong, and the FB whiffed on his blocking assignment. But most times it seems like guys who miss their blocks start to lunge/dive/etc. where you can tell they did (like the GIF where the FB started to go out for his pass and dove at the blitzing LB as he sacks the QB). But from my POV after watching those first two GIF's is that the FB read the defense, and that Morris didn't--similar to how either a QB or the WR may not read a CB blitz, and so the one doesn't make the sight adjustment when the other does and the hot route/read is screwed up.
My question boils down to: do they make these type of "sight adjustments" on basic running plays? I mean, it's part of the play call on RPO's and read options.

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4 Re: Word of Muth: Cool Design, Awful Execution

by Theo // Oct 27, 2018 - 1:12pm

Typically when a runner sees an oponent jersey inside a blocker, he bounces outside. If the opponent jersey is outside the blocker you cut inside.
Jusziczk whiffed his block but was in position to maie a block if Morris had bounced outside, whick he shouldve.
On run plays you get an assignment like "block the first guy at place x". For linemen that can mean block the first guy to the right of you. For a fb it could be the first guy in the gap or the first guy outside the tackle, which depending on what the defense does could be anyone.
On this play the receiver was told to block the first guy inside of his, which at this time was the blitzing olb, had the lb been inside it wouldve been the end.

We actually blocked like this on a team I played for. We ran a lot of I, and as the receiver I would typically block the olb, whose eyes were in the runningback - as a receiver those blindside blocks were very effective. It left the fullback bkocking the corner or safety, whoever was first... Which was a better matchup as corners usually suck at taking on fullbacks.

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6 Re: Word of Muth: Cool Design, Awful Execution

by Joseph // Oct 29, 2018 - 11:32am

So, in your opinion, both guys are somewhat at fault, correct? I understand how the back reads the block--I have always told my boys "follow the butt" (of your blocker).
Maybe it's because what I know about blocking I have learned from Ben Muth here--but if the FB whiffed his block that bad, what on earth is he doing? The defender is right there--it isn't like the defender juked him or something.
Or is this possibly a case where one of them got the play call mixed up in the huddle (like the other GIF where Staley went the wrong way)?

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3 Re: Word of Muth: Cool Design, Awful Execution

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Oct 26, 2018 - 2:10pm

This is probably Justyzyk's screwup, but on the LB sack play, both he and the RT jump out at the DE and then jump in at the LB (and end up blocking neither...). Is it possible the RT was supposed to pick up the LB and Justyzyk crack on the DE?

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5 Re: Word of Muth: Cool Design, Awful Execution

by Alex51 // Oct 27, 2018 - 2:37pm

I seriously doubt it. Play the gif in slow motion and look at Juszczyk's head: he's looking straight at the LB the whole time, and never even turns his head to look for the DE. The RT, on the other hand, has his head turned toward the DE until the LB crosses the LOS. I guess anything's possible, but I know if I were trying to block a guy who had 50 pounds on me, I'd at least glance in his direction first. Juszczyk just screwed this up.

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