The SF 49ers were successful on both sides of the ball versus the Patriots, but there’s an unsung offensive hero who needs to be given his due.
When you blow out a team like the SF 49ers did the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon, there is rarely a shortage of players who could be called out among the guys who stood out as being key to victory.
In the case of the SF 49ers’ 33-6 drubbing of the Pats in Foxboro, those names include the obvious players like quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, running back Jeff Wilson, wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, tight end George Kittle, linebacker Fred Warner, and essentially the entire defensive backfield.
But one of the most overlooked members of the SF 49ers’ team was fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who remains one of the most important cogs to the machine that is head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
On Sunday, he proved once again how vital he is.
More often than not, Juszczyk’s traditional stat lines don’t jump off the page at you, if he even has numbers like carries, receptions, and yards to throw out at all.
In that regard, the fullback’s return to the Boston area he called home during his time at Harvard (a connection the viewing audience was reminded of every time he touched the ball or made any play) was quite different.
Juszczyk ran the ball four times for 18 yards and one touchdown and added another catch for 18 yards, a rather spectacular snag of a rocket thrown by Garoppolo.
For a non-fullback, this type of output would be pretty well maligned, and indeed there will be some who will mock the so-called “offensive weapon” for not being more involved in the offense using more tangible statistics. But Juszczyk’s impact on the game goes far beyond countable numbers.
CBS’ Tony Romo talked throughout the broadcast about how much Shanahan wants to get to the edges of the formation in order to create space for his ball carriers. This is why, Romo suggested, the SF 49ers’ offense is predicated on so many wide-zone runs, stretch plays, pitches, and jet sweeps. It’s also where a player of Juszczyk’s caliber earns his paycheck
Romo was also quick to point out the similarities between the offense Shanahan is running with the SF 49ers and the one the Patriots stalled in Super Bowl 53: head coach Sean McVay’s Los Angeles Rams.
During that Super Bowl, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick employed a wide 6-man front in order to make it more difficult for the Rams to set the edges the way they wanted. Instead, the Patriots dictated the edges to the Rams and stifled the high-powered Los Angeles offense en route to a 13-3 victory.
On Sunday, as Romo pointed out, Belichick attempted the same tactic to slow down an SF 49ers’ rushing attack that has been good in recent weeks. But Juszczyk, along with Shanahan’s creative play-calling, was vital to the Patriots’ inability to stop almost anything the SF 49ers threw at New England’s defense.
Rather than simply toss the ball to running backs Wilson or JaMycal Hasty, or even running a ton of jet sweeps to Samuel and Aiyuk, Shanahan involved all four players using non-traditional schemes.
That meant Garoppolo was throwing the ball to looping receivers who were swinging out from the backfield to the edge of the defense while still behind the line of scrimmage. These weren’t the easiest of throws for the SF 49ers’ quarterback, but they doubled as outside runs, putting the runners in space to create yardage out of literally nothing.
This meant Juszczyk was asked to create the edge often many steps away from the end of the SF 49ers’ formation as he did on this Aiyuk dash early in the game:
Blocks like these were what the SF 49ers’ fullback was doing all afternoon long, creating space for his running backs and wideouts to run into and helping the team as a whole average 5.3 yards per carry on the day.
Juszczyk gets a lot of flack for being the highest-paid fullback — by a wide margin — in the NFL, but there’s little doubt about his worth to the SF 49ers’ offensive success.
On Sunday in Foxboro, he showed once again how valuable he is, even if he isn’t lighting up the stat sheet on a week-to-week basis.