The San Francisco 49ers left the Buckeye State with a top-three offense and top-ten defense, feeling ready to take on the cream of the National Football League.

Nearly everything was perfect until veteran tackle Joe Staley broke his fibula late in the Week 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. It's estimated he'll miss up to eight weeks of football.

As noted in previous commentaries, my desire for the 49ers is a top-tier offensive line with three men in reserve with the talent to fill-in for a starter if necessary.

The world does not often fulfill such a concrete fascination.

All week I wanted general manager John Lynch to make a move and sign a quality tackle to fill in for Staley. Lynch clearly felt differently and instead will rely upon sixth-round rookie Justin Skule to hold down the left tackle position.

The 49ers also brought veteran tackle Sam Young back onto the squad, most likely to back up Skule.

There is a meat-hook reality that many fans, including myself, often ignore: there are no top-tier left tackles on the market right now. The 49ers' starting rookie left tackle is the best they can do at this moment.

The idea of Skule protecting quarterback Jimmy Garopplo's blindside turns my blood to liquid helium, but head coach Kyle Shanahan can employ a few tricks to help his rookie tackle.

1st Quarter: 1st and 10 at the SF 49 (13:05)




A power-running attack is a strategy that never goes out of fashion. Even Shanahan, who's better known for his zone attack, has a few power runs in his arsenal.

I Left, Z Left, 17 Power was the first play Shanahan called against the Bengals, which resulted in a six-yard gain from running back Matt Breida.

A coach at any level of football can draw up a power run in a way that fits his scheme, but the core elements remain the same.

The tackle and tight end block down, a fullback smashes an edge defender, and a pulling guard swings through to clean up any pesky linebackers.

There are variations on the design, such as a one-back power run, not pulling a guard, or even targeting a different defender as the victim of the attack. No matter which variation of power Shanahan calls, I guarantee Skule's blocked a few thousand power runs in his career.

Shanahan's play-action off power runs are the P14/15 protections. The 49ers opened the 3rd quarter against Cincinnati using P14 Weak play-action, which gained 39-yards.



2nd Quarter: 2nd and 20 at the SF 15 (14:15)




The results of the above play were not in favor of the 49ers. Garoppolo misread the coverage and threw an interception.

So, ignore the turnover and instead look at 3/300 Jet protection.

Jet is six-man protection that slides four offensive linemen one direction, leaving a tackle and back to pick up the other side. 2/200 Jet slides four linemen to the weak side, while 3/300 Jet slides the line strong.

In all instances, the Y-receiver will be running a route.

The back reads inside-out on Jet protection, starting head up over the center and working his way to the edges. He could have responsibility for a Mike or Sam linebacker, an edge defender or even a blitzing strong safety.



If the back does not have any blitzing defender to stop, he can release into the play as Mostert did above. However, I would not be surprised if Shanahan directs his backs to stay in and assist Skule this Sunday.

2nd Quarter: 1st and 10 at the SF 44 (1:09)



Through two games, 49er running backs have amassed 117 yards receiving, or just under twenty-five percent of the team's total receiving yardage.

Receiving backs are a critical part of Shanahan's system, and will give his backs a free release throughout a game.

'Scat' looks similar to Jet, except the back has a no blocking responsibility. He heads immediately into the route without hesitation. The offensive line follows similar rules to 'Jet' protection.



We will see Skule one-on-one in pass protection on Sunday, and 'scat' leaves him without any help.

Skule's pass protection skill is mostly unknown. Indeed, he did not have an incredible preseason against men who are no longer on NFL teams.

He had one pass snap against Cincinnati, a quick screen to his side. Skule was unable to make a block on a defensive back Darius Phillips, who brought down Samuel for a short gain.

Other Ways to Help Skule


There are a variety of other ways Shanahan can call run plays and pass protections that can provide Skule and Garoppolo a little extra insurance.

A 'strong left' formation places tight end George Kittle next to Skule, with fullback Kyle Juszczyk aligned a few yards behind Skule's right hip.

Last week, Shanahan called a play from a 'Hug' formation, which puts the Z receiver roughly five yards from the tackle. Indeed, not every 49er receiver has the power to take on a defensive end or linebacker.

Shanahan could call a quick screen or a toss out of 'strong left' or 'Hug,' allowing Skule to work in space. I don't know how many battles Skule wins against linebackers Bud Dupree or TJ Watt.

Shanahan also uses two-tight end sets which he calls 'Tite.' It places two tight ends, the Y and the U, on the edge of the line of scrimmage.

If the 49ers can again establish an aggressive ground attack as they did against Cincinnati, Shanahan can then call movement or play-action to the right side of the field.

I'm disappointed to see Staley not suit up for this season's home opener for a few reasons. He's been the soul of the franchise through some dark periods and deserved to run between the flames and under the scalding Santa Clara sun on Sunday.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
All images 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.