Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


Film From the Field House: Three Fixes to Rejuvenate the 49ers’ Stagnant Offense

Bret Rumbeck
Oct 15, 2020 at 9:14 PM


I thought the Super Bowl hangover was a football fable, but watching the 2020 San Francisco 49ers now has me as a true believer.

And the 49ers' hangover is not the bleary-eyed, dry-mouth, dull-headache hangover.

No, good friends, this is the hangover you had Thanksgiving weekend when everyone from back home was legally old enough to hit the downtown bars.

You remember that night – it started innocently with a pint of Guinness, and then someone from 3rd period English bought a round of off-label vodka shots. While the drinks between 8 p.m. and closing time were a blur, the last drink of the night was a whiskey sour with a girl you've known since second grade.

The series of bad decisions mixed with rail alcohol resulted in a Thanksgiving morning that felt like the Grim Reaper had carved out half your neurons in your cerebral cortex with his rusted scythe.

Fortunately, there are plenty of cures for a hangover. Head coach Kyle Shanahan can turn a dismal start into a winning season. Here are a few ways the 49ers can improve this Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.

Offensive Line Communication


Bill Walsh noted in his 1985 playbook that there was "no group within any sport whose success is as dependent on an effective communication as the offensive line in football."

Walsh felt that if the five or six offensive linemen were all on the same page, no amount of talent could "replace the ability to understand one another."

The 49ers' 2019 offensive line was not perfect, but it made up for deficiencies with outstanding communication. Teams do not average 144 yards per game on the ground and nearly 250 passing yards per game without each man intimately knowing the man next to him.

This year is a vastly different story.

The 49ers' offensive line has already allowed 18 sacks through five games, putting it on pace for 58 by the end of the season. While the ground game is averaging a solid 5 yards per attempt, it isn't worth its salt without an effective passing game.

1st Quarter: 1st and 10 at the SF 47 (9:46)


2/3 Scat protection is one of the primary protections used in Shanahan's offense. It is five-man slide protection that sends four offensive linemen away from the call, with the tackle protecting the opposite edge.

Each man's reads and responsibility can alter because the Mike linebacker is shifted too far left or a defensive lineman is in a 2-technique rather than a 3i-technique. But no matter the defensive alignment, the offensive line has little room for error since the back and tight end have a free release into the play.

On the play above, the 49ers' faced a 4-man under front. Miami did not stunt a linebacker or safety, so left tackle Trent Williams should have blocked Miami defensive end Zach Sieler.

From the tape, it should have been textbook protection for Williams.


However, Williams and Tomlinson were not on the same page, with Williams shoving Sieler into an empty B-gap. I am unclear why Williams thought left guard Laken Tomlinson would be available for help or thought Miami linebacker Jerome Baker was a threat.

Had Miami defensive lineman Christian Wilkins been aligned in a 3-technique, then Tomlinson would have adjusted and taken Wilkins, allowing Williams to bounce further outside to take on defensive end Zach Sieler.

But Williams kept his eyes on Baker and gave Sieler an easy lane for a sack.

A second-half sack also came through the left-side B-gap.

It happened in the 3rd quarter against Miami at the 2:18 mark. Miami was in a Cover 0, with eight men on the line of scrimmage. Tomlinson went too far inside at the snap and left the B-gap wide open for Baker to drop Beathard for nine yards. Williams had help from tight end George Kittle but was occupied by outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel.

Williams and Tomlinson have had this issue throughout this season, where the B-gap is unmanned, resulting in a rushed throw or sack.

The 49ers' offensive line needs to learn how to talk again before it gets better. Indeed, each lineman has his own set of fundamental and footwork issues, but that can be overlooked in place of improved communication upfront.

The Offense is Thin on Confidence


The deep and intermediate passing game for the 49ers has not been consistent this season. Whatever your thoughts as to why – a shaky offensive line or an injured quarterback – probably have elements of fact.

3rd Quarter: 1st and 10 at the SF 40 (4:03)


The game was out of reach when Shanahan called 'X-Rider', but I respect him for trying to force some confidence into the offense's collective body.

'Rider' has been a successful play for the 49ers since Shanahan joined the team. In this instance, the play unfolded as it does on paper – the safety dropped with wide receiver Deebo Samuel on the streak route, opening up the middle of the field for wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk.


Beathard had Aiyuk open, but he did not throw with anticipation. The film showed that once Beathard saw the linebackers, he held back his throw and then checked it down to running back Jeff Wilson, Jr. in the flat.

A confident team and quarterback would have let that deep ball to Aiyuk fly, but the 49ers skulk around the field like a teenage kid who has been rejected to the prom three times.

But rejoice! Shanahan can rebuild the offense's confidence. He has the technology to make it better than it is now.

Confidence With Shorter Passes and Ball Control


One foundational element about the West Coast Offense was controlling the ball through the air. Walsh would use shorter routes and faster passes as extended handoffs. For example, a five-yard slant could ultimately gain 15 or 20 yards if the receiver had enough open field in front of him.

This year's 49ers need to find a rhythm on offense that is more than running '18 Force' or '18 Zap' for chunk yardage gains.

Shanahan should open the game with a series of quick, aggressive throws that gets quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo set and confident quickly.

Week 4: 1st Quarter – 1st and 10 at the SF 12 (13:36)


'Dragon Y Over' is as simple as it gets in Shanahan's playbook and gives Garoppolo a high percentage throw to start. Plus, slant routes are unbeatable if the 49ers are five or six yards from a first down.


The intermediate and deep passes will come, but right now, these are not the answer.

The Rams have made significant improvements since last year, and defensive tackle Aaron Donald has been a one-man wrecking crew in the trenches. It's paramount for the 49ers' offensive line to neutralize Donald while building a steady beat for Garoppolo to march the offense downfield.

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.
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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