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Shanahan’s Run Schemes Swept Away Packers’ Super Bowl Hopes

While it was expected that the 49ers would resort to a lot of sweeps, they took it to a new level against the Packers last Sunday. Here’s my rundown of the sweeps (or end-arounds) that the Niners threw at the hapless Packers’ defense:

Quarter One

Drive 1 – 3 plays – Punt

Coleman – Left – 5 yards

Drive 2 – 6 plays – TD – Score 7-0

Mostert – Left – 5 yards

Drive 3 – 5 plays – FG – Score 10-0

Quarter 2

Drive 4 – 6 plays – TD – Score 17-0

Mostert – Right – 13 yards

Drive 5 – 8 plays – FG – Score 24-0

Mostert – Left – 7 yards

Drive 6 – 3 plays – TD – Score 27-0

Quarter 3

Drive 7 – 7 plays – 79 yards – TD – Score 34-20

Mostert – Left – 7 yards

Mostert – Right – 5 yards

Samuel – Left – 11 yards

Samuel – Right – 32 yards

Mostert – Left – no gain

Quarter 4

Drive 8 – 3 plays – Punt

Mostert – Right – 4 yards

Mostert – Right – 3 yards

Drive 9 – 10 plays – FG – Score 37-20

Mostert – Right – 5 yards

Mostert – Right – 3 yards

Drive 10 – 3 kneel downs

49ers RB Deebo Samuels

Jan 19, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) is tackled by Green Bay Packers cornerback Kevin King (20) in the third quarter of the NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

So, disregarding the kneel-downs, the Niners had nine offensive possessions, and they employed sweeps in all but two of them. Some were of the jet sweep variety. At times pulling guards were employed, like back in the days of Fuzzy Thurston, Jerry Kramer, and Paul Hornung. Sometimes the Niners led the way with three tight ends, and only one wide receiver, on the field.

At all times, the ball went to guys about as fast, or faster than, any of the Pack’s defensive backs. Second-string back Mostert had the game of a lifetime, but it really didn’t matter who the ball went to on this day. Rookie receiver Deebo Samuel was even more efficient than Mostert – his two sweeps totaled 43 yards.

While I can find no 40-yard dash time for Mostert, I did find this tidbit: in 2015 (I think), Mostert was ranked by NFL.com as the fastest college football player in the NCAA, with only Oklahoma State wide receiver Tyreek Hill possessing a faster 100-meter time. I keep hearing that the Packers tackled poorly on Sunday, but you gotta catch up with a guy before you can tackle him. Green Bay lost the track meet on Sunday!

I counted at least three times when last-chance Green Bay tacklers barely managed to arm-tackle these speedy guys just enough to trip them up – I believe two of these were by Darnell Savage – Green Bay’s fastest player – who from his safety position wound up with eight tackles.

Perhaps Mostert eventually got tired: the Packers held him to 15 yards total on his final five sweeps.

The only strategy that Pettine appeared to have for the anticipated ground assault was to use a base 3-4 defense most of the game. Instead of his norm of featuring five DBs, Pettine sent out linebacker B. J. Goodson, who managed to get five tackles in playing 39 out of 55 defensive snaps. I’d say Goodson stands to get increased playing time with the Packers in 2020.

The 49ers played no favorites: they utilized three different ball carriers, and they swept to the left or right about equally. I counted 13 sweeps or end-arounds. The Niners took control of matters in the second quarter, and by midway through the third quarter the Packers defense was gassed. In the 49ers’ most impressive drive, the 7-play 79-yard march that came in response to Green Bay’s first touchdown, 55 of those yards came on sweeps.

Two of those sweeps were by wideout Deebo Samuel. The rookie out of South Carolina, drafted 36th overall, has comparatively modest speed (4.48 dash time). For some more comparisons, Marquez Valdes-Scantling has 4.38 speed, and Tyler Ervin has 4.41 speed. Over the last two years, MVS has run four sweeps for 38 yards. This year I believe Ervin has gotten three sweeps for 35 yards. I don’t know why Matt LaFleur tries to go wide so rarely.

I have the Niners’ 13 sweeps gaining 93 yards, for an average of 7.2 yards per play. I’m guessing that in addition to the 13 sweeps, San Francisco probably faked a sweep at least ten times, which aided them in the rest of their rushes. Since they gained 288 yards in 39 carries overall (I’ve subtracted out the three kneel-down losses), their non-sweeps compute to 26 carries for 195 yards on the remaining runs, an even higher average of 7.5 yards per play.

Uniquely Mismatched?

Did any other team on the season get road-graded to such an extent by the 49ers? The answer is no.

Of SF’s 16 regular season games, they rushed for 100 to 175 yards nine times. They rushed for 175 to 275 three times, all early in the season: in Week 2 they ran for 259 against the Bengals; in Week 5, they went for 275 yards against the Browns; and in Week 8 they went for 232 yards against the Panthers. The cumulative records of those three on the season is 13-35 – not the company Green Bay wants to be keeping.

The teams who fared best at stopping the 49er ball carriers were: the Cardinals, who in Week 11 held them to 34 yards in 19 carries (1.8 ave.); the Bucs, who in Week 1 held them to 98 yards in 32 carries; and the Rams, who in Week 6 held them to 99 yards in 41 carries (2.4 ave.).

Prior to the playoffs, the 49ers never exceeded 42 carries; in their last eight regular season games, they never exceeded 29 carries. Then against the Vikings they ran the ball 47 times for 186 yards – that average gain, of 3.96 yards, is not out of the ordinary. By comparison, the Packers allowance of 288 yards in 39 carries (disregarding the final 3 kneel-downs) works out to an average run of 7.4 yards.

I’d encourage Mike Pettine – who will be returning next season as DC – and his staff to pore over those game films against the Cards, Bucs, and Rams.

It turns out that Green Bay is scheduled to play the 49ers in each of the next two seasons – not counting any postseason matches. This matchup won’t be going away any time soon.

Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.



  1. Walt January 23, 2020

    And you can take this to the bank,every opponent next season will employ this same strategy against the Packers D until it is consistently is able to stop it. If I were coaching a team against the Packers I may never throw a pass 🏈

  2. Lawrence Kolcz January 23, 2020

    I remember when the packers had the best sweep in football, anyone remember Taylor, and Hourning sweeps?

    1. Robster January 23, 2020

      Like it was yesterday! Trouble is, I can’t remember what I did on the real yesterday.

  3. Bruce J. Kennett January 23, 2020

    I don’t know why Matt LaFleur tries to go wide so rarely. Anybody have any thoughts on this?

  4. Deepsky January 23, 2020

    I think teams got away from running the ball because if you had a good runner, when he went down, what did you have then? In the 49ers case, it appears they have solved this problem by having more than one decent running back. The Packers should pick up a decent running back in the off season, share the load between Aaron Jones, Jamaal WIlliams and a new back. Maybe that’s a big back that actually get a yard when needed.

    1. PF4L January 23, 2020

      They also solved it by the O line blowin up D lines

    2. Robster January 24, 2020

      Hey, Derrick Henry may be about to become a free agent. What do you say: Henry and Jones – Thunder and Lightning!