Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports


Film from the Field House: Scripting Five Runs for the 49ers

Bret Rumbeck
Jan 6, 2020 at 7:00 AM


The 2019 San Francisco 49ers started the year deep at running back. Even with veteran Jerick McKinnon spending another year on injured reserve, the 49ers finished second in the NFL with 2,305 total rush yards, 23 touchdowns, and averaging 144.1 yards per game.

Veteran running back Raheem Mostert has been a jack-of-all-trades for the team. He led the 49ers in rush yards, touchdowns, and broken tackles on rushes with 12. He also played 199 special teams snaps, notching 11 tackles.

Since Week 12, the 49ers' offense has rushed 149 times for 815 yards and ten touchdowns. That's an average of 5.5 yards per rush if you're keeping notes.

During the same time, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has attempted 160 passes for 1,535 yards and ten touchdowns. He's averaging nine-and-a-half yards per completion.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan needs to keep a similar run-to-pass ratio going through the playoffs.

Here are five runs I expect on Shanahan's play card for Saturday's divisional game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Week 1 – 1st Quarter: 1st and 10 at the SF 9 (7:32)



Shanahan's 'force' run is a full flow concept that attacks the edge of the strong side. 'Force' has the DNA of a power run with the fullback keying on the end man on the line of scrimmage. Rather than have the strong side tackle execute a down block, the offensive line uses outside zone blocking rules to create a gap for the back.

The running back keys on the outside leg of the tight end and takes an outside zone course. He will read the front side combination block outside-in. If needed, he can make a vertical cut inside if he sees daylight.

Shanahan can also add in motion from his Z or U receiver, asking him to execute a 'sift' block.

'Sift' is a blocking technique that goes as far back as Bill Walsh's 1982 playbook. Walsh described it as a block "… on the backside of a play where the T (tackle) or Y blocks the most dangerous of a DE/LB or LB/Saf (sic) stack."

Shanahan has modified Walsh's vision, and often sends his fullback or tight end on missions to destroy the backside edge defender.

Week 5 – 2nd Quarter: 1st and 10 at the CLE 19 (2:00)


Some of Shanahan's best plays are those with the most simplicity.

'Taxi' is a single back play that attacks the outside of the line of scrimmage. The play side guard and tackle pull to their left (or right). The play side tackle must get depth and clear the lane for the back.

The inside blocker takes the end man on the line of scrimmage, while the next will take the first 2nd level defender inside and off the line of scrimmage.

'Truck' is a similar call in Shanahan's playbook, but he runs it using a trips set on one side of the line of scrimmage.

I am guessing the play above is a variation of 'Taxi', with the guard and center pulling, and the tight end and tackle securing the edge.

Week 7 – 2nd Quarter: 3rd and 6 at the WAS 36 (15:00)


Weakside zone runs, called 'Wanda' in Shanahan's offense, have been a staple play for the 49ers this season. 'Wanda' is usually run from a single-back formation to strike the edge of the weak side.

The offensive line uses an outside zone push and rules to block. In the play above, the run was going left, which means each offensive lineman looks to his left to determine if he is covered or uncovered.

An offensive lineman is covered when a defender is between the lineman's nose and the nose of the lineman to his left. The lineman is uncovered if that scenario is not occurring.

The covered lineman usually makes a 'reach' block on the defender to his left. The uncovered lineman runs to the second level to pick off a linebacker or pesky safety.

The explosion of zone runs has changed the type of offensive lineman teams need to be successful. Size is less critical, with teams needing fast linemen with brains and technique to properly run a zone scheme.

One nuance that helped the 49ers in the play above was the motion from running back Jeff Wilson. He went to his right, which emptied the left side of Washington's defense. The 49ers then had the numbers to make the run successful.

Week 13 – 2nd Quarter: 1st and 10 at the SF 25 (1:58)


'Support' is another outside zone run to the strong side; however, this play was run from a single-back formation.

When Shanahan calls 'Support,' it tells the back to read the gaps one-at-a-time from outside to inside.

Mostert must have caught the massive hole between left guard Laken Tomlinson and center Weston Richburg because he planted his left foot and turned upfield quickly.

Right guard Mike Person also should get a gold star on the play for his second-level block against free safety Earl Thomas.

I like any outside play that lets Mostert read his gaps for a second before a firm step and cut upfield. He has been nearly unstoppable once he has his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and has a full head of steam moving forward.

Week 14: 2nd Quarter – 1st and Goal at the NO 10 (:45)


Shanahan's power runs do not deviate from the essential elements of an old run play, as he still attacks the strong side of the formation. However, Shanahan can run it out of a variety of looks with a few extra twists.


With two backs, the fullback pinpoints the inside leg of the play side tackle and keys on the end man on the line of scrimmage. The pulling guard comes through and heads to the second level to shove aside any linebackers who might cause a problem.

The running back runs downhill toward the A-gap and reads each gap from the inside out. Unlike a high school or junior college power that designates a specific hole for the running back, Shanahan's power can have the back head through the two, four, or six holes.

The ghost motion on the play was added to keep a defender occupied or guessing.

Setting up a successful running game on Saturday afternoon will pay off in spades throughout the game. Many of the run plays above have a pass that contrasts nicely, often getting Garoppolo out of the pocket or sucking up the linebackers to open space for a receiver on an intermediate route.

All images courtesy of NFL.com.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
  • 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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