SANTA CLARA – Deebo Samuel had a career-high, 39-yard touchdown run Monday night, and he had more than a little help from his friends.
“It was a cool play,” coach Kyle Shanahan said.
It was a play that illustrates just how in unison the 49ers’ blocking can be – and has been as they’ve surged to a 6-4 record and share of first place amid a three-game win streak.
“That’s what we do,” Samuel said of the blocking he received on that third-quarter touchdown, which put the 49ers ahead 24-10 in an eventual 38-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Let’s break it down and explain why it, especially the blocking, was so impressive:
STEP ONE: DECEPTION
After Jimmy Garoppolo uncharacteristically passed 21 times in the first half (against the 49ers’ seven runs), they opened the second half with a ground assault. After halftime, the 49ers called a run for the sixth straight snap, and so began Samuel’s touchdown run.
Jimmy Garoppolo faked a handoff to Elijah Mitchell, who just had three consecutive runs, and then Samuel dashed into the backfield from the formation’s right side.
Samuel took Garoppolo’s pitch on the midfield logo and raced left past George Kittle’s backfield block to open a lane.
Deebo Samuel was expected to gain 22 rush yards when he received the toss on his 39-yard TD run.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 22, 2022
STEP TWO: FOLLOW THE CARAVAN
Tight end Tyler Kroft led Samuel out of the backfield and toward the field’s left-side numbers. At the 35-yard line, Samuel found a lane.
Brandon Aiyuk’s three times sealed off linebacker Isaiah Williams. Kroft and Trent Williams escorted cornerback Marco Wilson out of the play and to the sideline.
Samuel’s favorite block? “BA’s,” Samuel replied. “That boy was lit. I made the cut off his block.”
Said Aiyuk: “We were faking that way, he’s coming back around. (Isaiah Williams) didn’t really see me so I’m trying to get in his way, so when the ball comes back this way, he turns into me and I get in front of him. He felt me a little and went up the field. It then was harder to seal him off, so it turned into a real, actual block.”
Meanwhile, Mike McGlinchey, the 49ers’ right tackle, traveled across the field and kept cornerback Antonio Hamilton from entering the fray at the 25-yard line.
“How hard the guys were working on the back side allowed us to finish it,” Shanahan said.
STEP THREE: BRENDEL’S BLOCK
As Samuel cut up field, 10 yards ahead of him was Brendel, who took over this season as the 49ers’ nondescript center.
When Samuel breached the red zone at the 20, Brendel was going toe-to-toe with safety Budda Baker at the 15-yard line, then the 10, and finally pancaking him at the 6-yard line as Samuel raced past them.
“I thought they were going to get him for holding, because Budda tried to flop a little bit,” Samuel said.
“That’s kind of how the play was designed,” Brendel said. “We didn’t know it was going to play out that way, but me in that position, Deebo using me to his advantage and making sure he got in the end zone untouched. It was great.”
Brendel’s ability to get so far down was impressive, and it conjured up memories of Joe Staley’s lead block for Alex Smith in the 2011 team’s epic playoff win over New Orleans (disclaimer: that comparison is not being made just because the Saint play this Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.)
So, what does Shanahan think about linemen’s down-field hustle?
“They better, or they’re going to be the weak link,” Shanahan said. “I feel like everyone does it here, it’s kind of just our standard. I think our guys enjoy it.”
STEP FOUR: PAYDIRT
This was Samuel’s second touchdown run of the season, with his other coming in the opening loss at Chicago. He has 31 carries for 202 yards in a “wide back” role that isn’t as crucial this season, at least not with Christian McCaffrey’s arrival last month and Elijah Mitchell’s return to the lineup two games ago.
“You always walk through those plays once or twice a week,” Brendel added. “You say it might get tackled at the 5, but you always have to execute it as if it’s going to the house.”
Samuel ran for eight touchdowns last season, a NFL-record for a wide receiver.
“When you call a run play, you try to make it the same feeling as calling a go-route or a big post or something like that every play has a chance to score,” Shanahan said. “And the only way you can look at that in the run game is if all 11 people are involved.”
Unison. The 49ers are excelling because of it. This was just one rushing play, but it was one of their five touchdowns, on a night their once-suspect offensive line did not allow a sack.