Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports


Film From the Field House: Scripting Five Passes for the 49ers

Bret Rumbeck
Jan 10, 2020 at 7:00 AM


Should a flying DeLorean ever arrive crashing into the driveway of an old San Francisco 49er fan's home, I'm guessing he or she would ask to go back and watch legendary quarterback Joe Montana play a night game at Candlestick Park.

The old guard, the men, and women who'd bring red wine and grilled chicken into the stadium on a foggy night, still yearn for the day the 49ers revive the West Coast Offense and hoist another Lombardi Trophy into the night sky.

Fortunately, new and old 49er fans are lucky to have head coach Kyle Shanahan calling plays from the shadowed sidelines of Levi's Stadium.

Shanahan has been a masterful play-caller for the 49ers, especially after quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took the reins of the offense.

In his first 16 game season in Shanahan's offense, Garoppolo completed 69.1 percent of his passes, fourth-best in the NFL, for 3,978 yards and 27 touchdowns. He had 7.31 net yards gained per pass attempt, ranking him sixth among eligible quarterbacks.

Garoppolo improved his performance during the second half of the season, throwing for four touchdowns three times and only throwing three interceptions between Weeks 12 and 17.

Restaurant chefs may train to learn the same principles, but the truly great chefs are not afraid to add a modern, personal flair or new fusion to a traditional dish.

Shanahan is no different.

His offense is grounded in old West Coast Offense principles and terminology, but with the right amount of innovation that works in today's NFL. It's proof that old schemes in football never die.

Here are five plays I hope to see on Shanahan's play card this Saturday afternoon.

Week 1: 1st Quarter – 2nd and 9 at the TB 32 (13:08)


The 49ers' first pass play of the 2019 regular season was a 19-yard completion to tight end George Kittle.

"Fake 18" indicates to the running back and the offensive line to move right, while Garoppolo fakes a handoff and continues on a short bootleg left.

The mass movement right forced Tampa Bay's linebackers to follow, combined with wide receiver Deebo Samuel's high corner route, created open space for Kittle in the left flat.

'Y Shallow Cross' is not a new idea.

Its origins are found in the 1994 San Francisco 49ers install playbook, written by then offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan.

The younger Shanahan took 'Drake 54 Z Speedo' and gave it a new name.

Kyle might have called the play, but maybe Mike deserves credit for the concept.

Week 2: 3rd Quarter – 1st and 10 at the SF 25 (15:00)


Shanahan has called 'Dagger' often this season with tremendous success. He called it to open the second half against Cincinnati and rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel gained 39 yards.

My season notes and diagrams indicate 'Dagger' called at least three times throughout the season, with each play going to Samuel. He gained at least 80 yards on the dagger concept in 2019 during his rookie year.

'Dagger' is not a sophisticated combination. The inside receiver runs a 'deep thru' while the outside receiver runs a 'dover' route.

The 'deep thru' is the first read on the play and sets the tone for the play's success. The receiver must choose the angle at the near-high safety, roughly at 14 yards.

If there are two safeties, he takes a softer angle toward the middle. Against one safety, the receiver cuts sharply toward the post.

'Dagger' is an excellent Cover 2 beating play, especially with a solid fake from the running back to freeze the linebackers. Cover 2 is vulnerable to in-breaking routes, as the middle of the field is often left open. With 'Dagger,' both in-breaking routes place one safety in a situation to make the wrong decision.

Of note, Shanahan also borrowed the 'dover' route from his dad but adjusted it slightly to fit his offense. In Mike Shanahan's 1994 playbook, 'dover' was a deep in-breaking route that had the receiver making three moves at the top: a slant inside, up, and then a square break inside at 20 yards.

Week 6: 2nd Quarter – 2nd and 10 at the SF 49 (14:52)


What continues to impress me is Shanahan's ability to take a staple play and modify it to fit whatever situation is needed.

During the Week 6 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, Shanahan had Kittle take one snap at fullback, and called 'P15 Wanda F Scissors.'

Typically, Shanahan calls 'Scissors' from a trips formation. The far outside receiver runs a post that breaks in at 18 yards. The inside receiver runs a 'rub spread,' which is a route that breaks inside at 4-6 yards, and then immediately toward the sideline. The Y receiver runs a corner route that breaks outside at 12 yards.

This time, he modified the play and had Kittle run the out route from the fullback position.

The 1991 49ers also ran a 'scissors' combination, but from a right or left slot formation. The outside receiver would run a post, while the slot receiver ran a post-corner route.

Here was one instance where Shanahan deserves the credit for the innovation, as does the 49ers' offense for flawless execution.

It clearly worked, since the Rams defense completely forgot about Kittle, who gained 45 yards on the play.

Week 9: 4th Quarter – 3rd and 11 at the SF 16 (8:34)


'Double Swirl' is a play that goes back to Shanahan's days with the Falcons, if not further.

The play has mirrored swirl routes on the edges of the formation. Both receivers run roughly 10 yards downfield and make a break toward the corner before flipping around 180 degrees. A slot receiver, in this instance, Kendrick Bourne, ran a 10-yard 'basic' route.

Both backs stay in to block, as the play uses a 24/25 protection. Walsh used 24/25 split-flow protection often in his offense, and Shanahan has not modified it.

Shanahan, with a backbone made of pure adamantium, called the same play with just over 4 minutes left in the game but flipped the formation. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders gained 16 yards on a 3rd and 11 play that helped seal the win for the 49ers.

Week 13: 3rd Quarter – 3rd and 14 at the SF 7 (:17)



I'm a man of simple football tastes. Please give me a cold Anchor beer, wings, and a slant route to a 49er wide receiver.

In my world view, Shanahan could run slants to Samuel, Sanders, and Kittle against the Vikings and score six points on nearly every drive.

Samuel has been nearly impossible to stop on slant routes, which is why I fully expect Shanahan to call 2/3 Jet Lion more than once on Saturday afternoon.

Once again, Shanahan took a play from his dad's time with the Broncos and made it work in his system. While Mike used to have a fullback or extra tight end run into the flat, Kyle asks all his receivers to run slants, and still uses Jet protection on the play.

200 Jet tells four offensive linemen to slide away from the call to the widest side of the field. That leaves the tackle and back to pick up the opposite side. The running back reads who to block inside-out, starting at the man head up over the center.

Saturday afternoon is a good time for 49er fans young and old to celebrate the team's success while remembering its rich history.

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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