49ers Playbook Week 13: The cross-country dagger

Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

This week’s edition of 49ers Playbook looks at the Week 13 matchup versus the Chicago Bears and the concept designed to take advantage of the Bears middle-of-the-field vacancies: the cross-country dagger.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo made his first official start a week ago and led the 49ers to a 15-14 win over the Chicago Bears. Head coach Kyle Shanahan wasted no time throwing old school West Coast Offense (WCO) concepts (cross-country dagger) at him to take advantage of the Bears’ desire to defend the deep pass.

One concept that the 49ers relied on is known as the “cross-country dagger,” or known in WCO parlance as the “X Dagger” or “X-in” or “X-dig.”

This was a high-percentage passing concept for the Atlanta Falcons last season, and Shanahan made a point getting Garoppolo comfortable with throws he is best at in the intermediate-range passing game.

The concept itself can be traced back to at least 1985 under Hall of Famer Bill Walsh and evolving in the playbooks of former NFL head coaches Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan as shown above. The pass is generally run as a play-action pass.

The basic dagger concept is run as follows:

Outside receiver: runs a 15-18-yard “dig” route across the middle and adjusts route accordingly to the zone or man coverage.

Inside slot receiver: occupies the seam, seeks to get inside leverage on the defender, and runs a post or deep crossing route to occupy the deep secondary defenders.

Fullback: leaks out to the vacated flat area as a third option for the quarterback.

The play is designed to put the MIKE linebacker into conflict and make him cover vertically down the field or stay in his zone and play the dig route. The quarterback will attack the vacated zone. 

With the slot receiver running the post, the offense is trying to put stress on the safety (SS) in a Cover 2 or the play-side seam-hook defender in Cover 3.

In other variations of the play, the fullback or running back can run to the flat, and as we’ll see, the tight end sometimes will provide another check down in the opposite flat.

Let’s go to the film and see how the 49ers had success running the play.

In the second quarter, with the 49ers driving on 1st-and-10 at the Chicago 49-yard line, the 49ers lined up in 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two receivers) in a twins left I-formation.

This is the base formation Shanahan runs the cross country dagger concept out of.

The Bears are in their base 3-4 defense with a Cover 3 shell.

At the snap, the play action by Garoppolo draws up the middle linebackers, creating a void across the middle of the field. The fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, also pulls the weakside linebacker out into the flat.

With Trent Taylor in the slot covered by the strong safety and bracketed by the deep free safety, Garoppolo hits Goodwin on the deep dig as he takes a hit.

The play goes for 18 years and a new set of downs.

Late in the fourth quarter, the 49ers began their long 92-yard game-winning drive by running cross country dagger again on first down.

The 49ers are again in 21 personnel with twins left, but in an offset I-formation with Juszczyk offset away from the twins receiver side.

Instead of the fullback running the flat route, Garoppolo will utilize play action to Hyde, and Hyde will run out to the flat.

At the snap, receiver Louis Murphy in the slot gets bumped off his route, throwing off the timing and forcing Garoppolo to sit in the pocket and wait for a route to come open.

The Bears drop nearly six defenders deep to cover the deep post.

At the same, pressure up the middle forces Garoppolo to exit the pocket to his right running through the end zone.

Goodwin runs underneath the coverage to give him a throwing option.

Garoppolo finds Goodwin over the middle for a 13-yard gain on a play that could’ve ended badly.

Dagger-Seam (no play action)

Late in the third quarter on a crucial 3rd-and-8 that set another scoring drive, the 49ers run a variant of the dagger seam concept with no play action.

The Niners line up in shotgun with 11 personnel. The right side of the formation is running a curl flat concept, and the left side is running dagger-seam.

The fact the 49ers are allowing Garoppolo to choose based on the pre-snap read is a testament to his ability to process quickly and throw efficiently.

The Bears are showing a blitz look with six defenders in the box, plus a widened nickel defender splitting the difference between receiver Taylor in the slot and left tackle Joe Staley.

Garoppolo brings in tight end George Kittle to the backfield for delayed route out to the right flat after checking the pass rush.

At the snap, Bears’ (and former 49ers) defensive coordinator Vic Fangio sends his famous tackle-end stunt with a blitzing nickel defender from the two-receiver side as the middle linebacker drops into a zone.

Garoppolo looks right briefly before noticing the blitz from the left and the vacated area across the middle.

This brief look to the right holds the dropping zone defender from dropping into the middle to take away the slant.

As Garoppolo comes back to the left, the edge rush, who stunted around the defensive tackle runs free through the A-gap.

Garoppolo quickly processes this, and knows that he has Taylor open for a brief moment across the middle, and side-arms a beautiful pass around the blitzer into the void for Taylor.

As he releases, Garoppolo gets hit but not before the play goes for a gain of 15.

Next: Jimmy Garoppolo in the red zone

It’s evident Shanahan finally has a quarterback he can open up the playbook with. The variations above and the other concepts run during the game (like the Yankee concept) show Garoppolo is quickly grasping the offense and can run it with efficiency.

The last few weeks should be exciting and are definitely something to build on.