Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports


Three Tests for Nick Mullens and a Chance for More Bonus Points

Bret Rumbeck
Nov 11, 2018 at 8:08 PM


Eighteenth and nineteenth-century sailors setting forth on a global voyage faced plenty of peril: scurvy, pirates and mythical sea monsters. But getting stuck in the doldrums, where the trade winds die, left boats floating aimlessly under a scorching sun and cloudless sky.

After days or weeks of a slow meander, the breeze would finally return and filled the sail with enough air to push the men back on course.

Last week, the Bay Area wind blew into Santa Clara, and riding its back was an undrafted quarterback from Southern Mississippi.

Some may discount quarterback Nick Mullens' huge victory because the Oakland Raiders currently reign atop a mountain of industrial waste, but that's a hollow argument.

Mullens' leadership reenergized a stale offense and a frustrated fan base. He deserves the start today, but I'd like to see him tested in three areas.

Mount a Comeback

Please read a few more words before the comment section collapses under the gravity of negative comments.

Last Thursday, the 49ers' offense was scoring touchdowns at will, which was a welcome change.

However, what happens if the first two or three drives stall Monday night? It might be frustrating to see a return to earth, but it's the first test of Nick Mullens. Do not fear if the Giants are up by 10 points early in the game; here is a big test for Mullens we can enjoy. Can he bring the team back from a deficit and go on to win the game?

It's a fair test of a quarterback, no matter if he's the square-jawed, steely-eyed billion-dollar man or the undrafted kid from Hoover, Alabama.

Close a Game

One of the knocks on quarterback C.J. Beathard is his inability to finish sure victories or put last-minute points on the board when needed.

In Weeks 4, 7 and 8, the 49ers had a chance to close a game and walk away with a win. Against Green Bay, the 49ers ran nine plays on their last three possessions gaining a grand total of four yards.

Obviously, we know how the game ended.

The 49ers' loss to Arizona during Week 8 was similar. Beathard and the offense mustered 57 yards on the final three possessions, averaging 3.17 yards per play. The team punted twice and the game ended on a bad snap from Erik Magnuson.

The 49ers were never close to beating the Los Angeles Rams, but head coach Kyle Shanahan noted the team's need for players who could close games during his October 29 press conference.

"It comes down to, you can do a lot of things throughout a game, but when it comes down to the end when we need to close people out, and we need some closers to do that. We've had some opportunities to do it. This year there's two games in particular that have bothered me the most, this game and the Green Bay game where we've gotten that ball back with a chance to where you just get two first downs, and you can end that game, and we just got one of them."

Unlike the Rams game, the 49ers dominated Oakland on all sides of the ball and a victory was never in doubt. Despite a resounding win, Mullens is in an ideal position to show Shanahan he is the quarterback who can seal victories.

Further, a last-second win or a game-sealing drive could continue to change the mentality of the 49ers for the better and send the crowd at Levi's Stadium into a frenzy.

A Two-Minute Offense

Nothing drives me more insane than watching a team waste time at the end of the half just to get to the locker room and eat orange slices. If Shanahan wants to kick the tires on Mullens, then we need to see Mullens operate a two-minute offense.

These are precious seconds, and using those correctly can add up to wins. Shanahan needs to tear up the conservative play sheet that drains the clock and give Mullens an in-game test. During the remaining games, I'd like to see the 49ers walk into the locker room on a high note with the opposing defense getting an earful for playing lazy.

The 49ers and Shanahan have nothing to lose from seeing Mullens develop this part of his game.

Bonus Point: Here's Where Mullens Succeeded Where Beathard Has Failed

Fans forgot the type of game Shanahan can call when the offense is firing on all cylinders. His offense is not based upon wild route combinations. The multiple pre-snap shifts and various motions set the defense up in the prime position for the offense to attack. After that, Shanahan calls routes that stress weak points or routes that result in a wide-open receiver.

Since Beathard took over for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers' offense has looked stagnant and thoughtless. Some plays worked, but many others fell apart due to a slow read or an errant throw.

Take the play below for example from the Week 8 loss to Arizona.

Week 8 - 1st Quarter, 1st and 10 at the ARI 37, 6:03
There's nothing magical about the route design above. Shanahan's call was stretching a zone defense with two vertical routes while forcing the safety to choose between the stick-post route or tight end George Kittle's vertical. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk ends up being open, but Beathard doesn't see him because he was staring down Kittle. The play resulted in a sack for a nine-yard loss.

All quarterbacks stare down particular receivers on plays. It doesn't make them poor quarterbacks, it's just the way football works. Mullens did it, but he also did a better job of scanning the field and finding open men. He made simple plays, like the one below, look brilliant.

Week 9 - 1st Quarter, 3rd and 4 at the SF 40, 3:40
The top route combination is a smash concept, which has been in the 49ers' playbook since the Harbaugh-Roman era, if not longer. In this situation, the 49ers needed 4 yards for a first down; Garçon ran a seven-yard stop route and kept the drive going.

The crossing routes are as old as the West Coast Offense. Bill Walsh used to run an H-Y cross, which is identical to what you see above.

Ignore the records of both teams playing on Monday. It's a big game for Shanahan, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Nick Mullens, as the Faithful and football junkies want to see if the team can repeat its Week 9 performance.

All statistics courtesy of NFL.com.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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