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Anatomy of a Play: 49ers Goal-line Stand vs. Giants

Posted Nov 19, 2014

A frame-by-frame breakdown of the San Francisco 49ers defending four consecutive goal-line passes to preserve the team's 16-10 win.

Coming off of a momentum-building win in a hostile New Orleans environment, the San Francisco 49ers set out to capture their second consecutive road victory last Sunday in New York.

Late in the fourth quarter of the Week 11 matchup, however, the 49ers were on the brink of surrendering a go-ahead touchdown to the Giants.

Following a 37-yard catch by rookie wideout Odell Beckham Jr., New York was set up with a 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line with five minutes left in regulation. That is when – to borrow a hockey phrase – the defense stood on its head.

This article series is typically reserved for an individual play, but to tell the entire story of the sequence, we decided to make an exception.

Using NFL Game Rewind, we bring you a frame-by-frame breakdown of the 49ers defending four consecutive goal-line passes (three of which were fade routes) to preserve the team's 16-10 win.

First down: The Giants line up three-wide with running back Rashad Jennings the lone player in the backfield. San Francisco put its three defensive backs on islands and loaded the box with eight defenders. New York initially had a run play called, but upon seeing the defensive allignment, Eli Manning audibled into the shotgun formation.

"We had to change the first play," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We couldn't continue to keep the run on because of the number of people that were in the box."

On the right side of the screen, Beckham is isolated with cornerback Perrish Cox. From Manning's perspective, this looks like a favorable matchup given the rookie pass-catcher's leaping ability. Safety Antoine Bethea, however, fakes the blitz and moves left across the goal line after the snap to take away the underneath throw and allow Cox to commit to the fade.

Manning reacts to the bracket coverage and sails the throw out of bounds.

"The corner kind of backed off a little, so it was going to be a tough throw," Manning said. "I didn't want to force it or risk anything right there on the throw because they had it covered pretty well." 

Second down: The initial plan for the Giants on this play is to get Beckham (top) open on a pick play. The rookie motions down next to tight end Larry Donnell (middle) before the snap. The slot receiver is tasked with running straight ahead to cause a roadblock for the 49ers defenders, allowing Beckham to slip back underneath the confusion.

San Francisco successfully defends the play again with over-the-top and underneath coverage, forcing Manning to throw to Rueben Randall (bottom) in single converage against cornerback Chris Culliver.

"They were doubling Odell and keeping a lot of guys to that side," Manning said. "I had one-on-one to Rueben, so I took that one-on-one."

Manning's throw to Randall falls out of bounds to the side of the end zone thanks to Culliver's tight coverage and a relatively flat pass.

"Probably could have got it out there a little bit further towards the pylon," Manning said.

Third down: The Giants motion Donnell out of the backfield down to the bottom of the screen. Safety Eric Reid moves out of the box with Donnell into coverage.

"We got what we wanted. We tried to move guys around and create a matchup that we liked," Manning said. "We had one-on-one with Larry Donnell on a safety, we like that matchup."

This play was the closest to being a touchdown. Manning's arching pass hit Donnell in the hands, but Reid jarred loose the ball on the way to ground.

"The guy got his hands in there and got it out," Manning said. "It was a good play by the safety."

When asked about the contact Reid made with Donnell on the play, Coughlin said a penalty should've been thrown.

"That is no excuse," Coughlin added. "He had the ball. Bring it down." 

Fourth down: Last chance for New York, the Giants spread out five receivers with Manning in shotgun formation. The 49ers rush four and drop back seven into coverage.

"I tried to move around because everybody was going to be in the end zone," Manning said. "It wasn't going to be a clean-picture throw."

Manning has a clean pocket, but nowhere to throw. Two of his inside options are double-covered and the outside receivers are locked up in tight coverage. Rookie cornerback Dontae Johnson (white circle) is narrowly separated from his man, Preston Parker, so Manning opts to fire the ball to the posted-up receiver.

"I tried to fit it to Parker. Maybe I could have scrambled a little bit more and hit Rueben on the outside, but they did a good job," Manning said. "They had things covered up pretty well."

Johnson makes a quick break on the ball and deflects the pass up in the air. Fellow rookie Chris Borland comes down with the ball for his second interception of the day to complete the goal-line stand.

"It's fourth down and I know a touchdown puts us in a tough situation," Johnson told The Trentonian. "All year long we talk about going up and making the play when it's presented to you, and that's what I did.

"This game is a credit to our defensive staff. We worked all week on how to execute and we did... I'm really proud of being on this team."

Backs against the wall, the 49ers defense – particularly the secondary – came up with four crucial stops that kept the team in the thick of the NFC playoff race.

"It was a spectacular performance by our defense," Jim Harbaugh said. "So many guys stepped up and played great. They were living in the moment and competing like the dickens and making tremendous, athletic football plays."

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