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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Unfortunately for the 49ers, the moment of hesitation by Beathard turned a potential 83-yard touchdown into a 7-yard reception.
Here’s a video of the 49ers’ Week 5 play:
— Chris Wilson (@cgawilson) October 15, 2018
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:
Will the #49ers go screen-heavy again tonight? A shoe-string tackle kept this Week 5 screen pass from becoming a foot race between @Senseispunk and the secondary. #FreeRichieJames #GoNiners pic.twitter.com/VfnqMiznFx
— Chris Wilson (@cgawilson) October 15, 2018
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