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San Francisco 49ers

49ers Film Room: Attacking Cover 3 with three-on-two isolation

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49ers Garoppolo
© Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

We break down San Francisco 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan and QB Jimmy Garoppolo attacking the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Cover 3 defense by isolating two inside linebackers with three receivers.

 

During their Week 16 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s strategy to defeat the NFL’s top defense was to avoid their two Pro Bowl cornerbacks and instead attack the middle of the field. This strategy proved successful thanks to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s fundamentals, as well as his ability to quickly read the defense and accurately hit the open receiver.

The 49ers have a 1st-and-10 from their own 47-yard line. San Francisco is lined up with 21 personnel in a “Near Right” formation, with both receivers tight to the formation.

The Jaguars are in base personnel, with corner A.J. Bouye in press coverage against wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, and fellow corner Jalen Ramsey in off coverage across from receiver Louis Murphy. Jacksonville is in their standard single-high look, with SAM linebacker Miles Jack threatening a blitz from the outside:

49ers Shanahan Garoppolo

Expecting Cover 3, Shanahan runs a play designed to isolate the Jaguars’ middle hook defenders — their two inside linebackers — with three potential receivers:

49ers Shanahan Garoppolo

The Jaguars are playing Cover 3 Sky, with strong safety Barry Church — who can play both safety positions — as the single-high safety:

49ers Shanahan Garoppolo

Tight end George Kittle runs his clear-out route to the opposite hash, staying inside linebacker Telvin Smith. Murphy releases inside Ramsey and heads upfield until he clears linebacker Paul Posluszny — then he cuts in toward the middle of the field. Running back Matt Breida fakes the handoff before heading through the hole, looking for a dumpoff from Garoppolo. If Kittle is able to get Smith to turn his hips and follow downfield, and Breida is able to occupy Posluszny, then Murphy should be able to find a hole in the zone in the middle of the field:

49ers Shanahan Garoppolo

As Garoppolo drops back, he looks left, in order to keep Smith away from the middle of the field:

49ers Shanahan Garoppolo

Both linebackers drop to their respective hashes, and Church drifts back to protect against a potential deep pass:

49ers Shanahan Garoppolo

Garoppolo keys on Kittle as the tight end crosses midfield. Smith is watching the quarterback’s eyes, looking to jump any quick pass:

49ers Shanahan Garoppolo

Meanwhile, Posluszny focuses on Breida as the running back crosses the line of scrimmage, which allows Murphy to pass behind the linebacker:

49ers Shanahan Garoppolo

Smith realizes that Kittle is continuing upfield, so he turns to run with him. Garoppolo sees that Murphy is about to clear Posluszny, so he readies himself for the throw:

49ers Shanahan Garoppolo

With Smith’s back turned from the play, Garoppolo easily “throws his receiver open” beyond Posluszny:

49ers Shanahan Garoppolo

Murphy makes the catch and turns upfield:

49ers Shanahan Garoppolo

Murphy is able to pick up a few extra yards, and the 49ers have another first down:

49ers Shanahan Garoppolo

With the right play call, and good execution, the 49ers make it look easy against the NFL’s best defense:

Shanahan knows how to attack defenses. Now that he has a quarterback who exhibits the fundamentals — like controlling defenders with his eyes — and knows how to throw a receiver open, the San Francisco 49ers’ offense is beginning to come into form.

Chris Wilson is the Lead Writer for Locked on 49ers - part of the Locked On Podcast Network. You may have seen Chris Wilson’s work on NFL game theory, statistical analysis and film breakdowns at FanSided, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, ClutchPoints, Insidethe49 and others. Follow Chris Wilson on Twitter @cgawilson.

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