One of the best parts of the holiday season, as a parent, is seeing the joy in the eyes of your children as they start to play with everything that Santa was kind enough to put under the tree. Toys and gifts that just hours ago were a figment of their imagination, are now being put to life in their hands.
It almost makes the weeks leading up to the holiday worth it.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has some incredible toys at his disposal right now in Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey, and how he used them together on Monday night against the Arizona Cardinals should send shivers down the spines of NFC defensive coordinators.
In San Francisco’s 38-10 rout of the Cardinals, McCaffrey and Samuel combined for 124 yards on 14 receptions, and while they were held out of the end zone in the passing game, how Shanahan used them is a sign of more explosive passing plays to come.
Shanahan got the two on the field together early in the game, and this route concept might be one to track as the season continues. On this 1st and 10 play from midway through the first quarter, the 49ers align with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo flanked by the two, with McCaffrey to Garoppolo’s left and Samuel to his right.
They then bump McCaffrey in the slot to the left, and this is the route concept San Francisco implements on the play:
On the right side of the field the 49ers run a spacing concept. Tight end George Kittle runs a quick in-cut while fullback Kyle Juszczyk releases to the flat from his wing alignment. Samuel runs a spot route, checking up around five yards downfield.
On the left side, wide receiver Danny Gray releases vertically, while McCaffrey runs an option route from the slot. With the defender giving him a big cushion, he cuts inside, and Garoppolo hits him in stride for an easy 11-yard gain:
Early in the third quarter, Shanahan called for this design again, but with the formation flipped. McCaffrey runs the option route out of the right slot, while Samuel runs his spot route out of the backfield to the left side of the field.
Once more, Garoppolo hits McCaffrey on the option route, this time for a 12-yard gain:
But to get a sense of how dangerous these two are, and what Shanahan has at his disposal, take a look at this play from late in the first quarter:
This is the same design, just with the Samuel and McCaffrey switching roles. This time McCaffery is part of the three-receiver spacing concept, while Samuel runs the option route out of the slot. Again, that is where Garoppolo goes with the football, and the play turns into a 19-yard gain for the offense.
These are quick, easy throws — the types of plays where Garoppolo tends to thrive — but with these two weapons at his disposal, the 49ers can stress the defense to both sides of the formation.
Plus, the versatility of these two players will force defenses to make some difficult decisions before the snap. Do you treat them as wide receivers? Running backs? Something else? On each of these examples, the Cardinals have a bigger defensive package in the game, with four defensive linemen and three linebackers. Then if you look at the second example, McCaffrey runs his option route between a pair of linebackers, which is a matchup Shanahan will take ten times out of ten.
The two plays that might terrify me the most as a defensive coordinator each went for minimal gains on Monday night, but as you walk through them, you can see the potential for something much, much bigger for the 49ers.
The first of the two plays came from early in the fourth quarter, with the 49ers enjoying a 31-10 lead. Facing a 3rd and 2, they line up with Garoppolo in the shotgun, and McCaffrey standing to his right.
Here is what Shanahan dials up out of this formation:
We can start to the left side of the field. Kittle, aligned as the inside receiver to the trips, runs a post route attacking the middle of the field. Jauan Jennings, the middle receiver, runs a wheel route while Brandon Aiyuk, aligned on the outside, runs a dig.
However, the real fun is on the backside of this play. Samuel is the single receiver to the right, and he runs a shallow crosser, while McCaffrey runs a wheel route out of the backfield:
With it 3rd and 2, Garoppolo throws the shallow to Samuel, but I cannot help but wonder if, at some point this season, we see McCaffrey matched up on a linebacker in this alignment, and the quarterback throws the wheel route.
But my favorite of the two came midway through the first quarter, just after the first play discussed earlier. San Francisco lines up with both Samuel and McCaffrey in the backfield, flanking Garoppolo who is in the shotgun.
Here is the route concept:
There is so much to love about this design. The 49ers use a Y-iso alignment, with Kittle as the single receiver on the right side of the formation. Aiyuk and Jennings are in a slot formation to the left, with Aiyuk on the inside. McCaffrey is to the left of Garoppolo, with Samuel on the right.
To the right side, Kittle runs a dig route while Samuel runs a wheel route out of the backfield. On the left side, Aiyuk and Jennings run a “peel,” or post/wheel, concept to the left, while McCaffrey serves as the checkdown option.
Garoppolo wants to hit Kittle on the dig, but with that covered, he simply checks it down:
While the play goes for just a five-yard gain, you can see the potential. From the post/wheel combination that Aiyuk and Jennings run, to the dig route from Kittle out of the Y-Iso alignment that could, at some point, see him with a very favorable matchup, to the wheel from Samuel that also could create a huge play for San Francisco in the future.
Kyle Shanahan received a wonderful new gift just before the holidays, and the possibilities for the 49ers’ offense with McCaffrey and Samuel on the field, along with the rest of their talented skill players, should give NFC defensive coordinators anything but holiday cheer.