Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports


Fixing a Hole Where the Pass Rush Gets In: Improving the 49ers’ Pass Protection

Bret Rumbeck
Sep 13, 2018 at 8:09 PM


Fortune may favor the bold, but it does not often guarantee David beating Goliath.

Last Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers' offensive line failed to create running lanes or protect quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers averaged 3.6 yards-per-carry on 25 attempts, for a low sum of 90 yards rushing.

The 49ers' pass blocking looked more like a pasta colander, allowing four hits, 16 hurries, 21 pressures, and one sack. Indeed, the 49ers' offensive line received poor marks from Pro Football Focus. The team was dead last in pass blocking efficiency with a 71.1 grade and ranked 26th in run blocking with a 52.3 mark.

Keep in mind the Vikings' run defense and pass rush are among the best in the NFL. Pro Football Focus graded the Vikings' Week 1 run defense at a league-leading 90.2, while it graded the pass rush at 75.9, ranking the Vikings third overall last week.

The football gods added injury to insult when both Mike Person and Joshua Garnett suffered game-ending injuries. Head coach Kyle Shanahan had to audible and move rookie tackle Mike McGlinchey to right guard and play veteran Garry Gilliam at right tackle.

Once again, Gilliam struggled to play football, allowing one sack, one hit, three hurries, and five quarterback pressures. He's too slow and lacks the coordination and footwork needed for Shanahan's offense.

Shanahan's system uses elements and language from the West Coast Offense (WCO). Therefore, his playbook likely includes protections that ask the running backs to help pass block.

It's clear the 49ers' offensive line cannot succeed using five-man pass protection. Tasking the running backs to pick up pesky linebackers or defensive ends could provide Garoppolo more time in the pocket.

Here are three West Coast pass protections that use the backfield to assist the five men up front.

20-Series


The 20-series is six or seven-man protection, sending the backs in opposite directions to block the defensive ends on their side before running a pass route. The Y-receiver has a free release into the field.

Typically, the fullback protects the strong side of the line, and the halfback assists on the weak side. Also, an offensive lineman can shout a 'Gap' audible to a back and ask for assistance with the inside linebacker.

Shanahan does not have to keep his backs in to protect on each play. Adding a 'scat' tag tells the running back to leave early rather than pick up a blitz. A free running back against an onslaught provides Garoppolo an immediate target in the flat or middle of the field.

50-Series


Like the 20-series, the 50-series divides the backs but instructs each to help the offensive line pick up inside linebackers (ILB). However, there are a variety of nuances to each number in the series.

In 50/51 and 52/53 calls, both backs check their respective ILB before releasing into a route.

The 54/55 and 56/57 protections may be the most beneficial for Shanahan this week. In 54/55 calls, the halfback works with the weakside guard to pick up the ILB. The fullback first takes a quick look at his ILB, and if the ILB does not blitz, the fullback can release into the play.

It's the opposite in 56/57; the fullback works with the strongside guard to pick up the ILB, and the halfback has a free release after checking his ILB.

The 50-series also releases the Y-receiver into the play frequently. He does, however, have to stay and block on 58/59 calls, giving the quarterback solid seven-man protection. The Y can release late into the play if the opposition does not blitz.

Depending on who ends up starting at right guard – Mike Person, Joshua Garnett, Mike McGlinchey or Najee Toran – I would expect Shanahan to use the 54/55 and 56/57 calls to help the right side early and often.

60/70-Protections


Some of Shanahan's best designs on Sunday were when he moved the entire offensive line in one direction and leaked a tight-end or receiver into the vacated space.

On the first play of the 49ers' third possession, Garoppolo shifted tight end George Kittle from the right of the formation, to just outside the left tackle's hip. At the snap, the offensive line moved in unison to the left. Garoppolo put the football in the back's belly to draw in the linebackers but pulled it out to hit the Kittle in the right flat.

On the next play, Shanahan flipped the call. He moved the offensive line to the right and had Kittle run a short route into the left flat.

The 60/70 series may vary slightly, depending on which playbook or offensive guide you have on your bookshelf.

In Concept Passing: Teaching the Modern Passing Game by Dan Gonzalez, he describes 60 protection as a "… a six-man scheme, that in its most basic form, handles three rushers to either side of the ball: 60 represents the frontside of the protection to be the right…" According to Gonzalez, the 60-series sends the running back to the left while the offensive line heads to the right.

Regardless of how Shanahan lists them, the protection provided an element of surprise and allowed the 49ers to gain yardage and control the tempo of the game.

Prediction


I do expect the 49ers to bounce back against the Lions on Sunday, with fewer mental errors and improved offensive play. Rookie linebacker Fred Warner picks off Lions' quarterback Matt Stafford midway through the fourth quarter to seal a 30-21 victory.

All game statistics courtesy of NFL.com.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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