The San Francisco 49ers are hours away from entering a grinding 21-day stretch, facing three teams that have a combined win-loss record of 24-6. As ESPN's Nick Wagoner pointed out, this has not happened this late in an NFL season during the Super Bowl era.

There have been plenty of people picking apart where the 49ers need to improve to win these match-ups. The 49ers have had decisive moments against Seattle and Arizona, despite some struggles and errors.

All energy flows from the Great Magnet, but adding enough positive momentum can defy his will. Below are a handful of plays from Weeks 10 and 11 that show what the 49ers are capable of achieving.

Week 10 vs Seattle

1st Quarter – 3rd and 10 at the SF 25 (13:45)

The 49ers' offense opened the game against Seattle, teetering on the edge of a three-and-out. Head coach Kyle Shanahan called '3 Jet Spin Y Flat' against what looked like a Cover 1 man defense.

The mirrored routes at the top of the screenshot, 'basic' and 'short basic,' are typically run quicker. The 'basic' route breaks at 12-to-14 yards, while the 'short basic' breaks at 8-to-10 yards. Wisely, Shanahan had both receivers run deeper routes to break the first down mark.

Three other elements helped wide receiver Kendrick Bourne gain 16-yards on the play.

First, both receivers rounded the routes and did not break stride. Rounded patterns may be sinful for some, but they work well in today's NFL. A receiver running forward at full speed will almost always be faster than a defensive back who is back peddling and then has to plant and restart to keep up.

Second, Seattle free safety Bradley McDougald started in the box, but then immediately dropped to the deep half of the field. Had he read Bourne a bit more, he could have cut the route off, and possibly forced Garoppolo to take a sack or throw an incomplete pass.

Third, Garoppolo had to move around in the pocket to buy himself a few seconds. Bourne was not breaking inside when Garoppolo hit the top of his drop. Garoppolo moved to his right, stepped up, and threw a strike to keep the drive going. Sometimes, patience in the pocket is just as valuable as anticipation.

1st Quarter – 1st and 5 at the SEA 48 (5:38)

If you've been keeping up with previous breakdowns, then you'll recognize the play above. Shanahan called the same play to open the Week 5 blowout of the Cleveland Browns.

Running back Tevin Coleman and fullback Kyle Juszczyk start in a strong left formation, but the 'joe' motion moved Juszczyk nearly into an I formation. That pulled both linebackers to the left, giving the play a look of a weakside run.

Fortunately, both Seattle linebackers guessed wrong.

The shot above is one of my favorites because it is the moment both linebackers knew they'd been guessing on the play, rather than reading their cues.

Further, look at how well the 49ers have the play blocked. It made for an easy 22-yard gain for Coleman.

The 49ers had the power of a million exploding suns in the first quarter, gaining 118 yards on 20 plays and scoring ten points. Seattle's offense looked like shattered fragments on a floor, running six plays for a total of five yards.

2nd Quarter – 3rd and 4 at the SF 33 (11:23)
Anytime the 49ers sack Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, you'll find me riding a fake bull and hooting at our viewing location in Boise, Idaho.

When 49er linebacker Fred Warner dropped Wilson for a nine-yard loss, I overemphasized my celebration to ensure the Seahawk fans sipping their Mac-and-Jack's African Ambers heard me.

I do not know Seattle's offense, nor the team's protection calls. However, the protection on this play looked like 3 Jet, as four offensive linemen slid wide, leaving the back and tackle to pick up the weak side.

Jet protection often requires the back to make a double read, starting with the man head up over the center and working outside. That did not happen on this play, and Seattle's mental lapse resulted in a much-needed sack for the 49ers' defense.

Week 11 vs Arizona

1st Quarter – 1st and 10 at the SF 40 (5:30)
The 49ers had their share of struggles in both games against the Arizona Cardinals. There were moments of great play though, one being second-year defensive tackle Julian Taylor's tackle-for-loss during Arizona's second possession.

The play above had all the elements of a trap, but tackle D.J. Humphries blocked down on Taylor, rather than skipping over him to get the linebacker. Taylor should have been intentionally unblocked and hit by pulling guard J.R. Sweezy.

You can see below that Sweezy was looking at Taylor, which muddied up the running lane and slowed running back Kenyan Drake down just a bit.

Whether Humphries' block was intentional or an error meant nothing to Taylor, who burst out of his stance with loaded hips. Taylor blew right by Humphries with a swim, pulling through with his other hand. He took down Drake for a one-yard loss.

Everything about Taylor's tackle-for-loss features the subtle nuances missed by just watching the broadcast.

2nd Quarter – 1st and 10 at the ARI 18 (8:38)
The 49ers' first big play against Arizona was a screen to wide receiver Richie James, Jr. on the previous play. James took the ball 57-yards down to the Arizona 18-yard line.

Arizona must have thought Shanahan was going to take a quick shot at the end zone, so the secondary aligned in what looked like a simple Cover 3. That assumption would leave the Juszczyk open underneath the linebackers and secondary coverage.

The three-receiver route combination – a 'stick nod,' 'CO China,' and the 'now' route from Juszczyk caught Arizona off-guard. With both linebackers dropping and nobody on Juszczyk, he had an easy catch-and-run for 14-yards.

3rd Quarter – 1st and 10 at the SF 16 (14:52)
The 49ers opened the second half with the ball and needed a first-strike play to harness the stagnant momentum.

When the offense broke the huddle, the team aligned in a 'strong right flex' formation, but Garoppolo saw something in the Arizona defense he thought was vulnerable. If you listen to the broadcast, you'll hear Garoppolo shout 'Can,' which changed the play to the second called in the huddle.

The play was not a carbon copy of previous versions of Shanahan's 'Chief' play, but it does have similar characteristics.

The crossing routes from both backs and the slant-and-sit route – Shanahan calls that 'chief' – was the same look from what the Atlanta Falcons ran in 2016.

The two go routes are what could be a new twist to the play. Previously, Shanahan had an inside receiver run a corner and had a back run a wheel route up the sidelines. Those routes are not in the play above, but the go patterns do act as clearing routes like the corner and wheel would.

Details aside, Arizona was covering deep, which opened up Coleman's short route underneath the coverage. He caught the ball in stride and outran most of the defense.

Hopefully, Garoppolo bought left guard Laken Tomlinson a steak dinner for the block above. I can't stress enough how much watching game film opens up an entirely new world for football fans. I doubt anyone caught Tomlinson laying out nose tackle Corey Peters on the broadcast.

It is paramount all Faithful fans to stick with their superstitions and game-day rituals over the next few weeks. The 2019 49ers can grind out wins and fight back, but it never hurts to have as much luck as possible on your side.

All images courtesy of
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
  • 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.