Posted June 13, 2013

Is Craig Dahl right about 49ers tipping their plays?

San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams
Craig Dahl (43) will now experience the Rams-49ers rivalry from the other side. (David Welker/Getty Images)

Craig Dahl (43) will now experience the Rams-49ers rivalry from the other side. (David Welker/Getty Images)

Former Ram and current 49er Craig Dahl made some NFC West waves this week when he revealed how the St. Louis Rams defense had, to some extent, solved San Francisco’s offense in 2012. The 49ers tipped their plays, Dahl told the San Jose Mercury News, allowing the Rams to often figure out whether a run or pass play was coming at them.

“Different personnel and different alignment stuff really were the big keys as far as giveaways,” Dahl, who left St. Louis to sign with San Francisco this offseason, told the Mercury News. “It’s been addressed and corrected. They knew most of it before I even got here. We just reconfirmed it. It’s ongoing self-study and self-scouting that got it cleared up, too.” That revelation was met with scorn from Dahl’s former Rams teammate Cortland Finnegan, who tweeted, “Craig Dahl is lame and weak for that glad he with another squad we know how he play thanks for the tips we know who 2 go at.”

The Rams played the 49ers, then with Alex Smith at the helm, to a 24-24 tie in San Francisco and later knocked off the Colin Kaepernick-led 49ers, 16-13 in St. Louis.

It’s that latter game that we are putting in the spotlight here. Was Dahl right about the 49ers’ tipping their plays? It sure seems like it, based on what the game tape shows …

Coach_Clips (18)

Shotgun formation: 15 occurrences, 14 passes, 1 designed QB draw

Whenever Kaepernick dropped into a traditional shotgun look (about six yards deep, with a running back at his side), the 49ers took to the air. This was the case no matter the personnel on the field — San Francisco usually either went with three receivers, one TE and a running back or two receivers, two tight ends and a back when Kaepernick lined up in such a way.

On 14 of the 49ers’ 15 shotgun snaps, Kaepernick dropped to throw. He wound up scrambling on a couple of occasions, but the only designed run from this set was a QB draw up the middle, which resulted in a 1-yard gain.

This also does not take into account the 49ers’ use of the pistol. They implemented that look a couple of times, once with Gore lined up being Kaepernick; at least twice out of their “diamond” set with three backs.

Coach_Clips (22)

1-WR, 2-TE set: 19 occurrences, 13 runs
2-WR sets: 26 occurrences, 19 passes, one designed QB run

The shot above is of the two-tight end, two-back (“22″ personnel grouping) that San Francisco utilized rather frequently during this game. On almost 70 percent of the snaps with that setup, the 49ers ran the football.

(And this is as good a time as any to remind everyone that the 49ers did manage to score 37 points in two games against St. Louis’ defense, so the “tipped plays” did not occur on 100 percent of the snaps; the Rams also did not snuff out every play that followed a pattern.)

Conversely, when the 49ers replaced either H-back/second tight end Delanie Walker or fullback Bruce Miller with a second receiver, Kaepernick usually put the ball in the air — 73 percent of plays from that personnel grouping were passes.

Coach_Clips (20)

“Jumbo” set: 8 occurrences, 7 runs

“Jumbo,”, “heavy,” whatever you want to call it, this refers to when the 49ers loaded up with big bodies in the backfield — multiple fullbacks, a third tight end or an extra tackle. There’s not a lot of mystery meant to be here anyway, so it’s not a huge surprise that San Francisco ran on seven of eight plays from these groupings (eight of nine, if you count a play wiped out by penalty).

Coach_Clips (21)

Bruce Miller or Delanie Walker motioning out wide: 4 occurrences, 4 passes

Small sample size here, considering the number of snaps that San Francisco had in the game. But whenever Miller or Walker shifted from inside the tackle box out to a receiver spot — either wide or to the slot, as Walker did once — the 49ers took to the air.

Each time, Frank Gore remained in the backfield. That differs from the three times that San Francisco went to an empty set, with no backs behind or alongside Kaepernick; those empty sets all resulted in passes.

Coach_Clips (19)

Delanie Walker motion to strongside: 6 occurrences, 6 runs

Another small sample size that resulted in 100-percent consistency. Whenever Walker motioned to the strongside, thus lining up offset next to Vernon Davis, the 49ers ran the football. These plays mostly occurred with the 49ers in their “22″ personnel, which we’ve already determined is a run-heavy formation. Moving Walker to the strongside pre-snap tipped the scales entirely. And on at least one such instance, the Rams charged through the line like they had guessed the correct play in “Tecmo Super Bowl” — blowing through the blocking to secure Gore for a loss.

Conclusions? Dahl and the Rams might have been onto something here. It’s possible that they found their tipped plays by looking at factors other than the ones highlighted here, but even a cursory scan through the 49ers-Rams tape hints at some easy-to-read calls by San Francisco.

The 49ers still won the NFC West, captured a conference crown and nearly pulled out a Super Bowl victory. Disguising their offensive plans even more in 2013 will only make opposing defenses’ jobs that much tougher.

18 comments
AdamDeh
AdamDeh

This is just scouting.  Formations and player sets always give some clues to what play is going to happen.  This can be boiled down to good scouting on the Rams part and having specific players who matched up well against the 49ers on those days.  It's not rocket science.

Hank4
Hank4

If the Niners didn't have a kicker in a funk, they would have won both of those games against the Lambs.I'm guessing the Rams weren't tipped off to the 50 yard run Kap made to get them in FG range. Or the perfectly thrown pass to Walker in the end zone that he dropped on the play after the run.

Whatever..a new season is coming up and the Rams can try to figure out what punch is coming to their guts.

htmurgatroid
htmurgatroid

This is a big RED HERRING.  There are holes in the SF offence. Real holes that other teams can exploit and they have nothing to do with "tipping" the plays.  The Rams did discover those REAL flaws but SF doesn't want other teams looking for it.  This is classic misdirection, like a master magician using one hand to distract from what the other hand is doing.  If teams are wasting time and manpower trying to find SF's "tells" then maybe they won't discover the REAL flaws in SF.  My guess is the other teams are not that simple minded and in short order their offence will be mastered and discarded like the Mike Martz offence.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain...


JeffSpear
JeffSpear

Perhaps some league-wide data would determine whether this is a non story. The narrative didn't seem like a new revelation.

PaulWonSavage
PaulWonSavage

Tipped plays? Probably not.  Tendencies? Obviously. Division foes knowing each others formations, personnel etc? DUH! Who cares?! Sometimes you just line up and tell your guys to beat their guys. Take the Vikings for example, I can think of at least 4 formations, where I knew it was a run, the defense knew it was a run, the announcers knew it was a run... the whole dang country knew it was a run... 2000 yards and  went to the playoffs. Now that I've cleared that up for you, just sit back relax and enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpo_sL4d5hs

Chris8
Chris8

All I got from this is that the Rams [miraculously] figured out that when a team they play frequently had certain players in certain positions they would run certain plays.  Wow, that's... profound...  I can see why this became such a story.  That must be called the "Paying Attention" game plan.


youngz101
youngz101

You mean they threw the ball while in the shotgun and ran the ball while in the jumbo set!? Shocking! Could you have found a more ridiculous non-story?

FQ
FQ

Craig Dahl bites on run fakes so often he is liability on deep passes.  What does he know?  Glad he is gone.

John4
John4

No Craig Dahl is not right.  The 49ers DID NOT tip their plays.  They predominantly passed out of passing formations and predominantly ran out of run formations.  Nothing special about that.  

Now - what is "tipping off a play"?  Well, what the 49ers did is NOT tip off plays.  When a team tips off a play, they are essentially telling a defense what TYPE of play they are about to run.  (It's far far more specific than "pass when lining up in passing formation").  For example IF a team has a certain player (or position) go into motion from a certain lineup, and then IF the running back runs to the right, it would be "tipping off" a play.  If a QB always looks at a WR while at the scrimmage then throws to him, it is tipping off a play.  If a team passes from a passing formation it is NOT tipping off a play.  Notice also that at least half of all NFL teams' offensive tackles do not eve put their hands on the ground for a passing play, but they do on a running play.  Simply look at the OTs and check if he puts his hand on the ground for EVERY passing play.  If he did not, is he "tipping the play"?  No he is not.  He's getting ready to run a team's passing play.  To think that passing out of passing lineups and running out of running lineups is "tipping the play" is idiotic and indicates that anyone who thinks so does not understand the NFL.  Also, shame on the writer for publishing such nonsense.  He should know better, although clearly, he does not.  That just indicates that he is not well suited for his job.   Maybe a career change is needed for him.  

truthbtold
truthbtold

Agreed, even a weak coach like Jeff Fisher can identify trends.

Ken31
Ken31

Yeah, this is just what coaches do, this isn't some great Rams trickery or code-breaking scheme. If they knew what plays we'd see something like the intended receiver double teamed, or no safety help on run plays, etc. This is just bad play calling by the Niners.

donald5
donald5

Cortland Finnegan is a complete moron.  Is Dahl supposed to go to the 49ers and NOT tell them that they are giving the plays away?  Just sit back and let his team play while knowing that the other team knows what plays they are running?  Who the hell in their right mind would keep their mouth shut about that?  What a complete freaking idiot.

eggishorn
eggishorn

Very interesting although (as Shmoobuster311 pointed out) a lot of these are basic reads that anyone playing high school football should learn.  In fact, this analysis shows just how much of a non-story Dahl's comments are.  Isn't this what every NFL coaching staff spends the week before each game doing?

Shmoobuster311
Shmoobuster311

these examples aren't the best...  I-Formation and the Shotgun are both generally run and pass formations respectively.  Same goes the for the Jumbo set in obviousness.  This isn't earth shattering news.  Now, if you told me personnel changes gave things away I'd be more impressed.

PigglyWinks
PigglyWinks

would have been better to see a few other nonRam games and see what the propensity was.

JKC
JKC

@donald5 No he's not.  He's spot on.  Do you think a coaching staff like Jeff Fisher put together isn't going to be able to spot trends like this?  Hell, every good staff in the NFL will be able to spot trends.  That's what scouting is.  Dahl's a bit of a doof for pointing it out like it's a big deal.  It's not.  It's part of football.

John4
John4

@Shmoobuster311 Shmoo - I don't think personnel changes give things away (or tip off plays).  If am team brings in a 4 or 5 WR set, it's a passing play.  Tipping a play is essentially "specifically what does a team do before the ball is hiked when they run a particular play"?  (Does the FB always go in motion to the right before a sweep to the right by the RB)?  (Does the RB always run up the middle if the team is in the "I formation")?  (Does the QB always look at the WR who is his first option, while in passing formation, before the ball is snapped)?   (Does the offense always do something particular and then follow it up with a particular type of play)?  That is tipping a play.  All teams have passing formations, and all teams have run formations.  That is not tipping off a play.  

ScottBennett
ScottBennett

@JKC @donald5 : Oh yeah he is. Just watch the way he plays and runs his mouth the entire game. IDIOT !