Week 6 49ers Game: 5 Impactful Plays and Players Film Review

October 18, 2023

Tony Camino

5 Notable plays from Browns upset over 49ers

While nobody gave them a chance, the Browns pulled off a massive home win over the formerly unbeaten 49ers to move to 3-2 this year. Star quarterback Deshaun Watson remained sidelined, and PJ Walker made just enough plays to guide the Browns to victory. For yet another week, the defense dominated and set the tone for the Browns early and often. Here are five impactful plays from the Browns’ 49ers game in Week 6.

JOK and Anthony Walker sniff out the screen

The scripted plays from Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers caused some issues on the first drive and were the only consistent offense they had all day. After quickly marching down the field, the Browns’ linebackers learned early that they had to key on #23 like crazy to keep him in check. The 49ers were looking to set up a screen to Christian McCaffery here, where they faked the run action, and McCaffery floated out to the left.

Both Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Anthony Walker do great jobs tracking McCaffery here, breaking down to tackle him on the handoff, and then shuffling out to play him in the passing game. The second they read the screen, both backers trigger and beat all the 49ers blockers to the spot to blow this play up for a big loss.

The Browns learned early they have to pay extra attention to the Niners star running back. Once they did, it was tough sledding and they held him in check better than most teams do. The linebackers were playing very free and fast Sunday and it led to numerous impactful plays that aided in the upset victory.

Amari Cooper could’ve had an even bigger day

Amari Cooper was incredible on Sunday, nearly single-handedly carrying the offense. Earlier in this drive, he beat his man for a long reception and then executed a move for a 58-yard catch and run. The Browns were facing a second-and-long situation here, trailing 7-0 and looking to get on the board.

The five men underlined in red at the line of scrimmage are indicating a blitz, bringing an extra defender. The corner is pressing up on Marquise Goodwin at the top of the picture, with just one high safety. Cooper is the number two receiver at the bottom of the screen, running a slant-type route after an outside release. PJ Walker sees the man coverage look with one safety over the top and likes the chance for Goodwin to beat his man for an easy touchdown.

From this view, it’s easy to see Cooper’s outside release, where he shifts the defender’s body in one direction before breaking off. Since the 49ers are blitzing, and there is no linebacker playing a robber in the middle of the field, the defenders can’t use any leverage and have to play head-up.

Cooper plants his foot after the release and effectively evades the defender, causing him to touch the ground without making any contact. The safety over the top read the same play Walker did and quickly moved to cover the vertical route. This leaves a significant amount of space where Cooper might have been able to walk into the endzone to tie the game. However, Walker never gets his eyes on Cooper and throws an incompletion out of bounds.

Walker played an okay game but missed some open big plays a couple of times. While in most instances, there’s a decent reason for missing the reads, these are plays that must be capitalized on to secure wins. Cleaning up the forced throws will go a long way if Walker starts again, and some of these big plays are bound to connect.

Browns play textbook man defense

The 49ers were aware that the Browns’ game plan involved running a lot of man coverage, and it led to some successful play calls where the Browns outplayed them. In this particular play, the Browns used their favorite variation of man coverage, with a hole defender in the middle of the field, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and a single-high safety over the top in Juan Thornhill.

Using this type of man coverage allows the Browns’ defenders to maintain outside leverage and channel everything toward their support in the middle of the field. The secondary excels at playing man coverage with leverage and has been successful with it throughout this season.

The post from the receiver at the bottom of the picture clears out Thornhill, giving the Niners exactly what they want with the dig route over the middle of the field. The hole player, JOK, is in an excellent position to break on Kittle’s route and make a tackle, yet he’s still deep enough to influence the dig route over the middle. JOK jumps and narrowly misses an interception, resulting in a great pass breakup.

In the top picture, take note of the anticipation with which Brock Purdy is throwing. A one-on-one dig route thrown with this level of anticipation on a play design like this is very challenging to defend. The Browns demonstrate why they excel at playing man coverage and force an incompletion, despite the 49ers executing well.

Myles Garrett tackle for loss

Myles Garrett is a world-class pass rusher, but Sunday might have been his best game defending the run. The 49ers are running an inside zone play here, with every blocker moving to their right while McCaffery takes the run to the backside B-gap. Garrett is lined up in the C-gap and is responsible for the B-gap to the right of Williams (#71)

With incredible athleticism, Garrett slides under Williams and beats him to the spot. To beat any lineman in a situation where he’s blocking to his right and a player gets to the gap on the other side is truly remarkable. Once he fits his gap and reaches his spot, enough of the play is disrupted to finish this run because Takitaki fits it well and allows Delpit to make a play in space.

Tackling McCaffery is never an easy task, and Garrett goes the extra mile to disengage from Williams and make a tackle in the backfield for a loss. This came on the play after the Owusu-Koramoah breakup and set the 49ers up for a third-and-long in the third quarter. Garrett makes his living getting after the quarterback, but dominating the run game against an All-Pro tackle is what sets him apart from other greats.

Jerome Ford’s huge run to set up the go-ahead field goal

The Browns managed to kick a field goal to narrow the gap to one, then secured a defensive stop, giving them an opportunity to take the lead. After a couple of penalties and short plays, the Browns found themselves in 49ers territory, attempting to move into reasonable field goal range and, ideally, end the game. Primarily an outside zone run team, the Browns introduced some new plays to their running game during the bye week, and these adjustments paid off significantly.

In this particular play, they executed a crunch run concept, which involves two trap blocks performed by the guards. Trap blocks occur when linemen leave the player directly in front of them and instead block another player by cutting them or catching them off guard as they enter the backfield. The left tackle climbs and seals off any potential leaks at the next level, while the center executes a down block, and the right tackle chips a defender before moving on to engage the linebacker.

Both guards effectively execute their cut blocks, and Dawand Jones does an excellent job reaching Fred Warner and neutralizing him to allow Ford to break free. At the end of the run, Ford makes a move in open space, adding another significant chunk of yards to the run. While the young back hasn’t been consistently exceptional, he has shown flashes of his ability to elude defenders when given space.

In the most critical moment of the game, the Browns return to their new addition to the run game with a crunch play they utilized multiple times in this game. By incorporating more inside zones and a more complex overall running game beyond the typical outside zone runs, the Browns’ ground game displayed significant potential against the formidable 49ers’ defense. Against weaker defenses that are forced to account for the pass more, the run game has the opportunity to regain its effectiveness.

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