The 2019 San Francisco 49ers have found ways to win 14 football games by any means necessary.

If the defense was having a tough day, the 49ers' offense picked up the slack. If the offense was sluggish, the 49ers' defense would provide a spark or shut down the opposing offense.

Special teams also played a key role, only allowing punt returners to gain 5.7 yards per return on 23 attempts.

In the 49ers' victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the 2019 NFC Divisional playoff game, the offense's lopsided game plan proved to work.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan called 47 runs against 19 passes. The strategy allowed the 49ers to dominate time of possession, racking up 21 first downs and control the pace of the game.

The passing game was relegated to a novelty act, used only to keep the Vikings honest.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo started the day 4-for-5 passing, throwing an opening drive touchdown pass to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne.

Following the balanced first possession, Shanahan went to the ground for the bulk of the game and found a way to win a playoff game with chunk yardage runs instead of explosive plays.

Here are three offensive plays that worked against the Vikings, and two that did not.

Three That Worked


1st Quarter: 2nd and 10 at the MIN 49 (12:28)
The 49ers' offense blazed down the field on its opening possession of the afternoon. The offense looked in harmony and ready to hang 35 points or more on the Vikings.

On the fourth play of the series, Shanahan called a play-action that sent the offensive line weak and rolled Garoppolo to his right after a fake handoff.



'X-Burner' is usually run from an I-formation, allowing the fullback to join two receivers in the field for a pass.

Shanahan modified the play and had fullback Kyle Juszczyk execute a sift block to the strong side. Only two receivers went into the secondary on a route and somehow found the only blades of grass the Vikings were not covering.



On the shot above, it looked like the Vikings left a large chunk of the field open for the taking. However, Garoppolo waited a moment longer to throw downfield, which allowed Sanders to gain at least ten more yards.

Garoppolo's faith in his arm and Sanders was impressive. The 22-yard gain was the longest completion of the day for the 49ers.

1st Quarter: 2nd and 7 at the SF 38 (3:29)


Shanahan is famous for his zone running attack, but he isn't afraid to work in a power or lead run during a game. On Sunday, he called a handful of power runs, including on back-to-back plays to close out an eight-play run-only drive in the third quarter.

As much as the NFL has evolved in the last thirty years, there are still components of power football in pro football playbooks. Shanahan's power run is the same play as it was forty or fifty years ago. The onside tackle and Y receiver block down and get to the second level, while a fullback crushes the end man on the line of scrimmage, and the pulling guard destroys a linebacker.

Shanahan can run power out of a variety of looks, including out of a single-back set. The play is still a full flow concept that runs to the strong side. Instead of a fullback keying on the end man on the line of scrimmage, the pulling guard takes care of that defender. It is up to the Y receiver to get to the second level and remove the Mike linebacker from the play.

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.



Left guard Laken Tomlinson had a great block against defensive end Danielle Hunter, which sprung running back Raheem Mostert for a ten-yard gain.

3rd Quarter: 2nd and 4 at the MIN 28 (7:47)
Halfway through the all-run touchdown drive, Shanahan sent in Mostert to give running back Tevin Coleman a breath and called what appeared to be a new run play.

Tight end George Kittle motioned into an 'I Right Clamp' formation, putting the offense in a strong right look. From here, it looked as if the 49ers would run '14 Suzy', a zone run that flows weak and the backs cut strong.



Instead, Shanahan flipped the run and ran it to the weakside. I do not know the name of the play, so I took the liberty naming it for him.

Both backs moved in the same direction and then cut back in unison to the weak side. The Vikings' defensive line flowed with the movement of the 49ers' offensive line, clearing the path for Mostert.



Juszczyk keyed on Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, politely removing him from the play, and allowing Mostert to gain seven yards.

I would not put it past Shanahan to pull a few more plays like this out of his hat against Green Bay.

Two That Did Not


1st Quarter: 2nd and 19 at the MIN 45 (:34)
Nineteen yards to gain for a first down is not an impossible feat, but there are not a lot of plays that can magically gain that distance.



Shanahan made the right call in this situation, but Garoppolo executed it poorly.

Typically, 'Buffalo' is a pick play, but it did not appear the slot receiver on the left side of the formation made a pick move, nor did he run a curl route. However, the three-man route combination was similar to previous times Shanahan has called 'Buffalo.'

It was also apparent to most everyone in the stadium and the Vikings' defense that Garoppolo was going to key on Kittle for a significant gain. To no surprise, the Vikings decided to bracket Kittle in coverage.



Instead, Garoppolo should have gone to wide receiver Deebo Samuel running the 'Now' route, or audibled to a run. Vikings' middle linebacker Eric Kendricks dropped to cover Kittle, which left the short middle of the field open. Garoppolo never saw the space or Samuel, who could have gained at least ten yards on the play, setting up a 3rd and 9.

4th Quarter: 3rd and Goal at the MIN 4 (15:00)
After a three-and-out series near the end of the 3rd quarter, 49ers' punter Mitch Wishnowsky boomed a 54-yard punt to the Minnesota 20-yard line. Returner Marcus Sherels muffed the catch, and the 49ers recovered at the Minnesota 10-yard line.

Two plays brought the 49ers four yards from the goal line. Shanahan radioed in a shovel pass.

In full disclosure, I despise the shovel pass. It has no business in the NFL, and Shanahan has far better short-yardage plays than a gimmick play found in a junior varsity playbook.

As Garoppolo eyed the defense and barked the signals, it appeared as if Minnesota was playing conservative defense.

Unfortunately, Minnesota sent a stunt and collapsed the 49ers' line. Kittle had nowhere to run after he turned around the right edge. The 49ers had to settle for a short field goal instead of seven points.

An angry and vengeful Aaron Rodgers frightens me, which is why Shanahan needs to come out on Sunday afternoon with an aggressive series of plays. The 49ers offense cannot afford many three-and-out series, or call a goal-to-go shovel pass, against a Packer team with something to prove.

All images courtesy of NFL.com.
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.