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Packers Film Room: Previewing Deebo Samuel’s impact as runner for the 49ers

How will the 49ers use their star WR on Saturday night?

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers are busy preparing for their divisional round opponent in the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night. There are a lot of talented players the Packers coaching staff will be preparing for, but wide receiver Deebo Samuel is one they’ll be paying extra attention to.

A second-round pick in 2019, Samuel has quickly developed into one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL. Samuel finished the season leading all NFL wide receivers with 18.2 yards per reception, hauling in 77 receptions for 1,405 yards and six touchdowns.

With the 49ers desperately thin at running back earlier this season, Samuel started to be utilized out of the backfield as well. He only carried the ball 59 times, but ran for 365 yards and eight touchdowns, setting an NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a wide receiver.

San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan has made it an emphasis to get Samuel the ball by any means while still keeping opposing defenses on their toes. With no Packers film to break down last week, let’s take a look ahead at Saturday’s divisional round matchup and the impact Deebo has on the 49ers offense.

Let’s start by taking a look at one of Shanahan’s favorite run concepts with Deebo in the backfield. The 49ers consistently called toss concepts for Samuel on Sunday, with cutback lanes created by tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

On the opening drive against the Cowboys, the 49ers ran a toss to the weak side of the formation with Deebo in the backfield. The fullback starts the play going towards the weak side before breaking off and heading back to the opposite direction of the pitch. Kittle leaves the defender on him to be blocked by Juszczyk, while he attacks a second-level defender to help create a natural cutback lane.

On this next toss concept, the 49ers just used Kittle coming across the formation to create a similar wrinkle and generate a cutback lane.

Shanahan drew up another similar concept with Kittle, but added in pre-snap motion to try and mess with the second-level defenders and put their eyes in the wrong place. The play was called back for holding on the boundary by Brandon Aiyuk, but the play is still worth mentioning.

Samuel rushed 10 times for 72 yards and a touchdown in the playoff win. His patience, vision, explosiveness, and play speed make him a legitimate running threat out of the backfield. That skill set was on display on the run below, waiting for his pulling blockers to engage before finding a rushing lane and taking off for a touchdown.

Just by being in the backfield, Samuel put stress on the Cowboys linebackers, particularly Leighton Vander Esch. Watch the hesitation from the linebackers on this run to Elijah Mitchell with a fake handoff to Deebo.

The third-year wide receiver didn’t need to be in the backfield to generate big runs, either. On the team’s final drive facing a third and long, the 49ers called a reverse to Samuel that nearly resulted in a game-winning first down.

The 49ers offense took advantage of the Cowboys defense being over-aggressive and failing to keep gap integrity. In the play below, keep an eye on DeMarcus Lawrence, who aggressively cuts inside and abandons backside containment, giving Samuel a ton of space to run upfield.

All of these clips talk about Samuel as a runner, but he’s still a top-tier wide receiver as well. The Packers will need to find the correct matchups to contain the hybrid playmaker, and defensive coordinator Joe Barry has a chance to impress fans everywhere by shutting Deebo down.