David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports


Film From the Field House: What Can Stop the Determined Heart of the 49ers’ Offense?

Bret Rumbeck
Oct 30, 2020 at 6:00 PM


A few short weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers were not an exciting football team to watch. Injuries, a lack of talent, and overall terrible play made the 49ers look like a hideous phantasm of men.

Back-to-back losses in Weeks 4 and 5 filled me with anxiety that almost amounted to agony each time game day rolled around.

But successive wins against the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots, due to nearly flawless offensive line play and a dominant ground attack, have infused a spark in the almost lifeless 49ers.

Here are some highlights from Week 7, and a few areas the 49ers still need to improve as they take on the Seattle Seahawks this weekend.

1st Quarter – 1st and 10 at the NE 34 (11:47)
One of my favorite quotes from Shanahan came during the lead up to Super Bowl LIV. He was responding to a question about installing a game plan and putting it together.

Shanahan responded, "No one ever really saves a play. There's not the magical playbook. It's just tying your guys together, going against whatever schemes, fronts, and coverages you're going against. I would be very surprised if anyone in the history going forward could ever come up with a new play."

Ironically, Shanahan saves and reuses a lot of his plays.

The first time I saw 'X Orbit Return Swing Bluff' was late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV.

Shanahan called the play with 5:27 left in Super Bowl LIV, on a 2nd and 5 at the 49ers' 25-yard line. It was the right call at the time and would have resulted in a first down. However, Kansas City defensive lineman Chris Jones batted the pass down at the line of scrimmage.

Shanahan rescued the play from its glass walls of limbo against the Patriots, adding it to the opening offensive script.


The play is a run-pass option, sold with the 'bluffed' blocks from tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. After breaking down as if to stalk block the defensive back, both slant toward the middle of the field.

Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk's orbit motion was window dressing, but he is a third option on the play if the defense covers both slant routes.

Unlike the Super Bowl, Garoppolo found Kittle for a 15-yard gain. The 49ers would score the game's opening touchdown three plays later.

2nd Quarter – 1st and 10 at the NE 40 (11:08)
Just when I thought Shanahan had exhausted the shovel pass, he called it to Aiyuk on the 49ers' third possession of the game.

I don't know if this is a new twist on an old play, but Shanahan incorporated a counteraction with right guard Daniel Brunskill pulling to his left.

There was also a bit of a single-wing offense vibration to the play, as it was hard to tell who Garoppolo was handing the ball to – Aiyuk or running back JaMycal Hasty.

It was a little surprising to see neither Patriot linebacker follow Brunskill down the line, confused by the pull or the misdirection. Usually, a linebacker would flow with the pulling guard. Instead, they stood frozen and unsure where to move.

Also missed on the live broadcast was right tackle Mike McGlinchey taking out two Patriot defenders. At the snap, he clubbed defensive end John Simon and then moved on to block linebacker Anfernee Jennings.

2nd Quarter – 2nd and 2 at the NE 30 (8:13)
Many of Shanahan's inside zone plays look the same and attack the same spots on the line of scrimmage. 14/15 Weak, called on the 49ers' fourth possession, is designed to attack the inside hip of the play side tackle on the weak edge.

The running back is at a 7-yard depth. He opens up at the snap and is usually squared to the line by this third step, and making his reads the same way: from the center out one gap at a time. He's reacting to the flow of the line, not a designated hole.

Juszczyk's responsibility is to take out the Will linebacker. He's also keying on the inside leg of the play side tackle and has to be alert for line audibles that may have him block the Will on the line of scrimmage instead of stacked behind the defensive line, or possibly the free safety.

The frontside blocks from Brunskill and McGlinchey, combined with Juszczyk's lead block, allowed running back Jeff Wilson, Jr. to gain an easy 17 yards.

2nd Quarter – 1st and 10 at the NE 16 (4:42)
The 49ers' ground game was galloping through New England like a headless Hessian soldier seeking his soul. And when the run game is hitting on all cylinders, it allows Shanahan to use the play-pass and movement sections of his playbook more often.


The 49ers opened with a 'drift' play-pass on their fifth possession of the game. 'Drift' is quickly becoming a standard play this season, with Shanahan calling it at least twice per game.


'Drift' always includes a 10-yard in-breaking route, this time executed by Kittle. Shanahan adds on different routes for the complementing receiver. In this case, he had Aiyuk run a 'swirl' route, whom Garoppolo found for a 15-yard gain.

'Drift' is becoming a regular play-action for the 49ers this year. It's a solid play, but it's now become a safety blanket for Garoppolo. If the running game continues to roll, Shanahan needs to call other play actions with deeper reads.

3rd Quarter – 1st and 10 at the SF 21 (10:41)
Shanahan opened the 49ers' 7th possession with an outside zone to the right. There was nothing significant watching the play live, but the tape showed why Wilson was able to gain seven yards.


Left guard Laken Tomlinson had an excellent backside block, which allowed Wilson to bend back against the grain. That's the beauty of a zone system - the back can read each gap and find daylight.

Tomlinson also notched his best overall offensive grade from Pro Football Focus on Sunday, earning a 91.1 for his efforts. He even landed on the Week 7 PFF Team of the Week.

Any budding offensive linemen should take a lesson from Tomlinson and never underestimate a backside block's value. Just because the play isn't going your way doesn't mean your role isn't just as important.

Stretch the Field Vertically

There are elements of the 49ers' offense that seem to have escaped the bisecting black storm clouds from September and early October rust.

However, Garoppolo is still struggling to throw the ball downfield. Garoppolo has attempted ten passes greater than 20 yards, connecting on one and getting two intercepted.

Garoppolo's real success is from throws behind the line of scrimmage to ten yards. Currently, he is 63-for-83 on these throws, with six touchdowns and no interceptions.

3rd Quarter - 2nd and 10 at the NE 48 (8:36)
I've always liked Shanahan's movement plays, which get Garoppolo out of the pocket and line up his reads in sequential order.


Garoppolo had made up his mind to throw to Samuel as he came out of his bootleg. There was plenty of time to set his feet and possibly find Kittle on the intermediate route for a more considerable gain.

At some point, Garoppolo will have to start getting comfortable with deeper throws that keep the defense guessing.

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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