In this week's episode of the podcast, Richard and I talked about how the 49ers will attack Green Bay on Sunday and it got me thinking about exactly HOW they were going to do it. Quite simply the 49ers will win with one of their staple routes: the wheel route.
The wheel route was one of the 49ers most effective routes in 2011. It was often used as one of Harbaugh and Roman's patented "shot plays," where they intentionally called for a shot down the field. The 49ers ran it out of multiple formations, typically to Vernon Davis.
With rookie outside linebacker Nick Perry seeing his first NFL action I would look for Greg Roman and the 49ers to attack Green Bay's rush-happy OLBs and force them into coverage with the wheel route out of run personnel. Below are a few examples of the 49ers running the wheel route with a high degree of success.
I had to link to albums on an external site due to some technical difficulties. I'd recommend opening the album in a different page and reading along with pictures beside the article.
1. Week 5: Tampa Bay
The 49ers come out in 12 personnel, one running back and two tight ends. Josh Morgan and Vernon Davis line up on the right side of the formation in a close split. Morgan runs his route directly at the space between Davis and the linebacker assigned to cover the tight end in what amounts to a pick play. Bill Walsh made these plays famous, sometimes using the referee to set the pick.
Alex Smith knows where he's going as soon as the ball is snapped. He play flakes, looks to his left to hold the safety, then throws the ball to Davis and earns the PI call against an under-matched linebacker.
Week 9: Washington
This is another shot play on first down immediately after a turnover. In this package the 49ers are looking to sell the run hard. It's 22 personnel (two RBs and two TEs) and both tight ends line up on the right side giving a "tackle over" look. Fullback Bruce Miller goes in motion and at the snap the right to simulate the run action, but more importantly to get him into position to run the wheel route.
At the snap, Braylon Edwards runs the interference route, allowing Miller to come in behind him. The play action freezes the single high safety as well as the linebacker assigned to cover Miller. If the throw wasn't there, Harbaugh knew he had at least a field goal so had Miller not been open Smith would have thrown it away.
Look for the wheel route on Sunday against Green Bay. It's the 49ers bread and butter play and it attacks a potential area of weakness for the Packers.