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Film From the Field House: Scripting Four Plays for 49ers’ Quarterback Nick Mullens

Bret Rumbeck
Nov 5, 2020 at 8:00 AM


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The San Francisco 49ers were riding a little higher entering the Week 8 match-up against the Seattle Seahawks.

Back-to-back wins against the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots gave the vibration that the 49ers had found a groove on both sides of the ball. The offense could put points on the board, albeit without throwing downfield, and the defense was finding ways to make stops.

But, as usual, these gains came crashing to a halt once the 49ers entered the eerie silence of CenturyLink Field.

The 49ers' offense looked flat and lost, while the defensive line generated a pass rush that would hardly damage a loaf of jelly bread.

On top of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's poor performance, he suffered another high ankle sprain and will be out of the line-up for a few weeks. Tight end George Kittle also fractured his foot in the game and will also miss time.

To add more gloom to the pile of bones, wide receiver Kendrick Bourne tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the 49ers to shut down any in-person game preparation. Joining Bourne on the Reserve/COVID-19 list are rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and tackle Trent Williams.

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel will also be on the COVID-19 list, but he was already out for tonight's game due to a hamstring injury.

Veteran quarterback Nick Mullens will be taking snaps for the 49ers tonight, assuming the cosmos has felt the 49ers have suffered enough this week.

Below are four plays that I hope will be on head coach Kyle Shanahan's call sheet tonight for Mullens.

The Opening Series


It is probably my bias, but I firmly believe the 49ers' offense plays better when it gets into an early tempo and puts points on the board with the first or second drive.

Week 8 – 1st Quarter: 2nd and 6 at the SF 39 (12:39)
Shanahan has been calling 'Aggie Now' often this season, and I see no reason to remove that play from the call sheet.

It's not complicated – four receivers run vertical routes, with the widest receiver in the formation running a 'now' route. The two vertical routes on the trips side clear defenders from the area, making it an easy read and throw for Mullens. Hit the receiver running the 'now' route on time and let him run through the defenders downfield.

Mullens could also throw to either receiver on a 'seam' route, which has happened on previous 'Aggie Now' calls this season.

Shanahan's called 'Aggie' early in games this season, so seeing it on the opening script wouldn't be much of a surprise.

Against Seattle, Garoppolo found Aiyuk for 19-yards on the seam route, which Aiyuk bent to the middle of the field once he hit the top of the route.

Momentum Changers


Football is unpredictable and controlled with the fickle fingers of the Great Magnet. It's why a team needs to take advantage of those rare moments when momentum begins to swing in its direction.

Week 8: 4th Quarter – 2nd and 1 at the SF 29 (5:53)

When Mullens has had his opportunities to play, he runs the offense with the wired eyes of a test pilot. He might struggle and might not always have the arm strength, but he is fearless and isn't afraid to throw the ball downfield.

Late in the game against Seattle, Shanahan radioed in '24 F Palm Z Swirl', and Mullens found Aiyuk in between the numbers for a 33-yard gain. The offense was moving quickly and would score four plays later.

The play used '24' protection, which is a throwback to Bill Walsh's system. It's man pass protection, giving the offensive line responsibility for the four defensive linemen and the Mike linebacker.

The back on the strong side, tight end Ross Dwelley, had responsibility for the outside Sam linebacker. The weak back, running back JaMycal Hasty, had responsibility for the Will. Since neither Sam nor Will blitzed, both were allowed to release into the play.


Shanahan needs to call 'F Palm Z Swirl' or an equivalent immediately if the 49ers intercept an Aaron Rodgers pass. Seizing momentum from Rodgers kills his spirit and sucks his soul from the back of his neck.

The Reliable Play


Assuming the 49ers' run game is firing on all cylinders, Shanahan can dial up his 'dagger' concept, almost always run using play-action.

Week 2: 4th Quarter – 2nd and 8 at the SF 25 (13:02)

When Garoppolo suffered his first ankle injury in Week 2, Mullens came in to help throw more dirt on the dreadful New York Jets.


Early in the 4th quarter, Shanahan called P15 Weak Z Dagger. Mullens found Bourne for a 24-yard gain.

The offensive line helps sell the play by blocking aggressively as if the play is a weakside run.

'Dagger' is not an intricate concept. The inside receiver runs a 'deep thru' while the outside receiver runs a 'dover' route. There are probably thousands of high school playbooks littered with the same concept or something close to it.

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.

The play is versatile and can be run with a single back, two backs, or another receiver into the field on a corner route.

Try it Again for Kicks


Week 8: 2nd Quarter – 3rd and 7 at the SEA 33 (12:14)
If the play above is familiar, it was in the Patriots' 2004 playbook called 'Ghost/Tosser.' However, the origins of the play possibly date back to the 1994 49ers, when they called it Hot 360 Y Fast. The 1998 Oakland Raiders also used it, calling it 'Y Stick Lion.'

All three plays have mirrored slant routes to one side and a three-route combination on the right.

I don't know why Shanahan called the play against Seattle, but there's part of me that thinks it was something to get Garoppolo confident again. While Shanahan's terminology might be different, the route structure is something Garoppolo was grossly familiar with.

Unfortunately, Garoppolo got rid of the ball too quickly and was only able to gain six yards. I believe the better choice would have been to Bourne, but I think that's piling on a quarterback who's already had a rough season.

Regardless, I'd like to see what Mullens can do with the play, especially with the three-level read on the right side.

Tonight is not the ideal circumstance for the 49ers, but the team has had ongoing success against Green Bay. Hopefully, some of that luck continues, and the 49ers can sneak one past the Packers.

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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