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49ers Film Room: Outside Zone Play Action Backside Tunnel Screen

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49ers Film Room, Kyle Shanahan, Richie James
© Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

We break down San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s Outside Zone Play Action Backside Tunnel Screen to WR Richie James vs. the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5, and discuss why the Niners need to #FreeRichieJames.

The San Francisco 49ers began Week 5 against the Arizona Cardinals with an impressive opening drive full of well-designed misdirection plays and screens called by head coach and unofficial offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The drive was capped off by a shovel-pass touchdown reception by running back Matt Breida that came on another complex screen play.

Unfortunately, when Breida left the game in the first quarter due to an ankle injury, San Francisco’s offense took a turn for the worse. While the 49ers were able to dink-and-dunk their way to significant total yardage, they missed Breida’s big-play ability, as a single mistake on a long drive often forced a turnover or punt.

With Breida and top wideout Marquise Goodwin sidelined, and tight end George Kittle dealing with an injury, the 49ers lacked the dynamic playmaker they needed to lead the team to victory.

However, Shanahan had a dynamic playmaker — rookie wide receiver Richie James — at his disposal, but the head coach left James on the sideline for the majority of the contest. James caught both of his targets in the game — both on screen passes, which appeared to be Shanahan’s passing play of choice against the Cardinals.

With fellow wide receiver Trent Taylor sidelined, James should play a more significant role in tonight’s Monday Night Football contest against the Green Bay Packers. Finally, Niner fans will receive what they’ve been longing for, as Shanahan will #FreeRichieJames.

Let’s take a look at one of James’ targets from Week 5 — a screen play that the explosive wideout nearly took the distance, but ended up as merely a 7-yard completion due to a missed opportunity by quarterback C.J. Beathard.

In the fourth quarter of the game, the 49ers took over at their own 17-yard line with over 12 minutes remaining on the clock, and down by eight points.

Shanahan’s offense lines up on the right hash with 21 personnel in an I-form twins formation, with James and WR Pierre Garcon both tight inside the numbers on the open side of the field. The Cardinals counter with nickel personnel in a single-high look:

49ers Film Room, Kyle Shanahan, Richie James, screen

 

Shanahan calls for an outside zone play action backside tunnel screen. On this play, the right side of the offensive line will sell the outside zone run to the closed side of the field, while left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Laken Tomlinson will take a step to the strong side before heading to their left to block for James. Both Garcon and James will release to the outside of defensive back Budda Baker, with Garcon attempting to draw Baker toward the sideline, allowing James to cut back inside to receive the screen pass:

49ers Film Room, Kyle Shanahan, Richie James, screen

 

After the ball is snapped, the Cardinals bite hard on the run fake, as their front eight defenders push down toward running back Alfred Morris. Meanwhile, Garcon gets Baker turned away from the play, while Staley and Tomlinson work toward the open side of the field:

49ers Film Room, Kyle Shanahan, Richie James, screen

 

Up to this point, the 49ers have run this play to perfection, as Cardinals linebacker Josh Bynes is caught staring into the backfield, unaware that Beathard still has the ball. San Francisco also has a significant personnel advantage on the wide side of the field, as Garcon has control of Baker, and the 49ers’ two offensive linemen only have cornerback Patrick Peterson to initially block, as safety Tre Boston is still 20 yards downfield. Unfortunately, instead of quickly getting the ball out to James, Beathard hesitates when he hits the back of his drop, and takes three extra steps before releasing the screen pass:

49ers Film Room, Kyle Shanahan, Richie James, screen

 

Instead of heading downfield with the ball, James has to wait for the poorly thrown pass to arrive, and then is forced to come back to the ball to catch it before it hits the ground. Meanwhile, Peterson and Boston are given extra time to converge on the play:

49ers Film Room, Kyle Shanahan, Richie James, screen

 

With James behind them, Staley and Tomlinson don’t know that Beathard’s poor pass has delayed James, and forced him to the middle of the field. The two 49ers’ offensive lineman attempt to clear out the sideline for the wide receiver, but in the process, they ignore Boston and totally miss Peterson when the corner makes a quick move inside toward the ball carrier:

49ers Film Room, Kyle Shanahan, Richie James, screen

 

Unfortunately for the 49ers, the moment of hesitation by Beathard turned a potential 83-yard touchdown into a 7-yard reception.

49ers Film Room, Kyle Shanahan, Richie James, screen

 

Here’s a video of the 49ers’ Week 5 play:

 

James’ other Week 5 reception went for 12 yards, but was called back due to a pass interference penalty on Morris that didn’t affect the catch. With a better block from Taylor, Baker doesn’t make the shoe-string tackle, and this screen pass could have ended in a foot race between James and rest of the Cardinals’ secondary:

Chris Wilson is the Lead Writer for Locked on 49ers, a FanRag Sports network partner. You may have seen Chris’ work on NFL game theory, statistical analysis and film breakdowns at FanSided, NinerNoise, 49erswebzone, Insidethe49 and others. Follow Chris on Twitter @cgawilson.

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San Francisco 49ers

PODCAST: Weekly Wink, Winning Streak, Mailbag

Brian Peacock

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© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Podcast for Tuesday, December 18

  • Guest: Nick Winkler
  • Mailbag
  • Impact of winning vs draft position
  • Free agent options Sean Lee and Anthony Barr
  • Nick Mullens’ trade value

 

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San Francisco 49ers

PODCAST: Rapid React To Week 15 Overtime Win vs Seattle Seahawks

Brian Peacock

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© Kyle Terada -USA TODAY Sports

Podcast for Monday, December 17

  • Takeaways and game balls from San Francisco’s 26-23 victory
  • Richard Sherman revenge game
  • Special teams accounts for 20 points
  • DeForest Buckner has maybe his best game in San Francisco
  • Updated draft position

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San Francisco 49ers

49ers Film Room: Rookie Safety Marcell Harris’ second NFL start

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49ers Film Room: Marcell Harris
© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

A week after a rough debut, San Francisco 49ers strong safety Marcell Harris made major strides in his second NFL start. Locked on 49ers’ Chris Wilson breaks down the rookie defensive back’s game film from the Niners’ Week 14 matchup against the Denver Broncos.

With their playoff hopes in the rear-view mirror, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch set a youth movement in motion for the remainder of the 2018 regular season. Proven veterans like Pierre Garcon, Malcolm Smith and Earl Mitchell have been relegated to the bench or shut down for the remainder of the year due to injury, opening the door for the 49ers’ batch of rookies and second-year players to prove their worth.

One of those rookies is strong safety Marcell Harris, San Francisco’s sixth-round draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The 49ers believe they received the defensive back at a discount, as Harris’ draft stock suffered after he missed his senior season due to a torn Achilles tendon. Harris — who started just nine games at the University of Florida — is a raw talent who played best as a box safety in college, and was projected to be a mid-round prospect prior to his injury.

After beginning the 2018 NFL regular season on injured reserve, Harris was activated by the 49ers last month, but was primarily used on special teams over his first three games. However, injuries to three of San Francisco’s safeties thrust Harris into a starting role against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 13. Unfortunately, Harris didn’t impress in his starting debut, which is somewhat expected from a player with limited college action who hadn’t seen the field in nearly two years.

But with the rust knocked off and another week under his belt, Harris looked like a different player against the Denver Broncos. After missing three tackles the previous week, which was reflected in his 25.6 tackling grade from Pro Football Focus, Harris racked up seven tackles and received a tackling grade of 80.1 from PFF in Week 14. While he’s far from a complete project, Harris demonstrated the athleticism, instincts and attitude that made the 49ers’ front office choose to take a flier on the talented prospect.

Let’s break down some of San Francisco 49ers safety Marcell Harris’ Week 14 game film, and highlight both the good and the bad from the rookie’s second NFL start:

 

49ers SS Marcell Harris Off the Edge in Run Defense

49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh lined Harris up close to the line of scrimmage for the majority of Sunday’s contest. In fact, Harris played on the line —  in 7-technique or off the edge — as often as he lined up in a traditional deep safety role.

When on the line or stacked next to the 49ers’ two inside linebackers, Harris worked closely with the team’s front four linemen against the run — particularly with defensive end Solomon Thomas. On our first play, Thomas does most of the work by blowing up the pulling guard, which forces running back Royce Freeman outside. After taking a moment to properly diagnose the play, Harris gets around the edge and reaches the ball carrier before tight end Matt LaCosse has time to cross the formation to impact the play:

 

49ers SS Marcell Harris Saves DE Solomon Thomas

While Thomas made Harris’ job a lot easier in our first example, on the following play, Harris makes up for Thomas’ mistake in run defense. When the ball is snapped, right tackle Jared Veldheer goes straight to the second level while fullback Andy Janovich passes in front of quarterback Case Keenum toward the wide side of the field. Thomas decides to split between the two blockers and run down the line of scrimmage, until he realizes the Broncos’ end around is heading toward the area he vacated. Thomas leaves Harris all alone on the outside to defend the run, with a pair of blockers between the safety and the ball carrier. But Harris quickly diagnoses the play, sidesteps Veldheer and heads toward the edge. Once Janovich overcommits to the outside, Harris cuts behind him and quickly brings wide receiver Courtland Sutton down for a loss:

 

49ers SS Marcell Harris as a “Robber”

Although Harris has fairly limited football experience, he knows how to play as a “robber,” and excelled at the position during his time in Florida. Saleh has the 49ers line up in a two-deep look, as both linebacker Fred Warner and nickel corner D.J. Reed use outside leverage in an attempt to bait Keenum into attacking the vacant middle of the field. As the ball is snapped, Reed gives wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton an unimpeded inside release, as Harris crashes down to jump the route. Keenum keys in on Hamilton, and by the time he recognizes the 49ers’ defensive play, pressure forces the QB to exit the pocket and throw the ball away:

 

49ers SS Marcell Harris Comes up to Deliver a Big Hit

When Harris lines up deep in a two safety look, he doesn’t always look comfortable in pass coverage, but he’s quick to head downhill and make his presence felt by an opposing receiver. With the 49ers in Cover 2, Keenum steps up and hits Sutton on a short pass across the middle. The wideout avoids linebacker Elijah Lee with a quick move inside, but then finds a willing tackler in Harris, who travels down from deep in the secondary to deliver a big hit on Sutton. The rookies quickly get face-to-face to share some choice words but the situation doesn’t escalate, as Harris demonstrates the desired combination of intensity and self-control teams look for in a hard-hitting defender:

 

49ers SS Marcell Harris’ Football Instincts Prevent a Big Play

If you simply watched the television broadcast of this play, you’d think Harris made a dangerous mistake in coverage, but this was actually one of Harris’ top plays of the day. Thinking run, Harris initially attacks the line of scrimmage, which leaves him shallow in the flat, but in a decent position to defend against the lone receiver in his vicinity. However, after Lee bites hard on the play-action, he totally loses his bearings. Lee turns backward, searching for a receiver in the secondary, and misses Sutton crossing in front of him, despite Warner’s warning. Luckily, Harris peeks back and sees Sutton crossing the field uncovered. As Keenum readies himself for the pass, Harris turns and quickly catches up with the wideout as he streaks down the sideline. With his intended receiver covered, Keenum checks down to the flat vacated by Harris, but miscommunication between the QB and his running back causes the pass to fall incomplete:

 

49ers SS Marcell Harris Gets Pancaked by RB Phillip Lindsay

Blitzing off the edge wasn’t one of Harris’ strong suits in college, as the safety logged just a single sack over his three seasons at the University of Florida. Harris has the physical ability for the job — particularly when he faces a 5-foot-7, 184-pound running back — but his technique needs improvement. Instead of firing off the line, Harris hesitates slightly when LaCosse lets him run free, leaving RB Phillip Lindsay to block the blitzing safety. Then, instead of running through the smaller blocker, Harris hesitates again before making a move to the outside. Lindsay engages Harris at the perfect moment, and plants the 208-pound safety into the turf:

 

49ers SS Marcell Harris Doesn’t Save DE Ronald Blair

This time, Harris bites on the play-action as defensive end Ronald Blair — similar to Thomas on the previous play — splits between the tackle and fullback and runs down the line of scrimmage. Harris tries to change direction once he realizes his mistake, but slips, allowing left tackle Garett Bolles to take a shot at the safety. With Harris caught inside, wide receiver Tim Patrick is free to follow his lead blocker for a Broncos first down:

 

49ers SS Marcell Harris’ Poor Technique in Zone Coverage

At times on Sunday, it was evident that Sunday’s matchup was Harris’ second NFL start, and that the young safety is learning a new defensive scheme. Harris does well in getting outside the No. 2 receiver, although free safety Antone Exum would have appreciated if his fellow safety redirected Sutton on his way to the flat instead of allowing the wideout to run unimpeded up the field. With no receivers in his area, Harris looks for work, but he turns away from the quarterback instead of simply sinking back to help cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.

Harris’ poor technique on this play creates a number of problems. By letting Sutton run free up the field, Exum is forced down to defend the hole behind the sinking inside linebackers. With Exum focused on Sutton, Witherspoon has to be prepared for a potential home run post route by Hamilton, but with Harris trailing the wideout, Witherspoon thinks he’s free to commit to the deep middle as soon as Hamilton cuts inside. Meanwhile, Harris bails on his deep coverage, as he sees Witherspoon in position to defend Hamilton’s post route. Unfortunately, Harris turns back to the QB at the worst possible moment — too late to see Keenum release the pass in his direction and too late to see Hamilton cut outside toward the sideline. With Harris spun around and Witherspoon overcommitted deep, an accurate pass would have meant a long reception for the Broncos, but luckily, Kennum air-mails the ball out-of-bounds:

 

49ers SS Marcell Harris Gets Picked in Man Coverage

With San Francisco lined up for a double-A-gap blitz, Harris is in man coverage against LaCosse, while Reed is tighter to the line against wide receiver River Cracraft. Both defenders are lined up with inside leverage to protect against a short pass over the middle, given the vacancy left by the blitzing linebackers. Both receivers release to the inside after the snap, but Cracraft quickly cuts between the two defenders in an attempt to distance Harris from his man. A small shove from the wideout is enough to create ample separation for LaCosse, who looks back for the pass as Harris struggles to recover. But instead of hitting his open tight end, Keenum locks on to wide receiver Andre Holmes, and as the quarterback tries to buy extra time by climbing the pocket, he’s hit from behind by edge rusher Cassius Marsh:

 

49ers SS Marcell Harris Ends Denver’s Fourth-Quarter Drive

When the pressure was on during a key fourth-quarter drive, Harris was at his best, as the rookie made crucial stops on three consecutive plays. On second down, the Broncos task Patrick with blocking the safety in order to free up an extra lineman to double-team 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. After the snap, Harris uses his strength and proper leverage to push Patrick back and off to the side, before disengaging and filling the hole, bringing Freeman to the ground for a short gain:

After failing to learn their lesson on second down, Denver attempts to use Patrick against Harris on another inside run on third down. Patrick doesn’t have a chance, as Harris beats him off the line and into the Broncos’ backfield. Patrick grabs Harris and tackles him to the ground, but not before the safety brings Freeman down in the backfield for a loss:

On fourth down, the Broncos decide to get the ball into the hands of their most electric playmaker, Lindsay. Since it worked before, Denver tries another pick play against Harris, who lines up across from the running back. The Broncos flood the boundary side of the field with all five receivers, but Keenum’s first look is Lindsay, who runs a “flat-7” concept with LaCosse. Both Harris and Lee are on the same page, as Harris cheats toward the outside, and Lee steps up to defend against a potential draw play. As the ball is snapped, both Lindsay and Harris sprint toward the flat. LaCosse tries to release outside and into Harris’ path, but Witherspoon engages and pushes the tight end back inside, as Harris fights through the rub in Lindsay’s direction. Keenum hits the back of his drop and fires the ball to his running back, but as soon as Lindsay catches the pass, Harris spins him to the ground short of the sticks.

For more on San Francisco 49ers safety Marcell Harris, check out Friday’s Locked on 49ers podcast, as host Brian Peacock and guest Chris Wilson discuss the rookie’s breakout performance in Week 14.

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