Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


Film From the Field House: The 49ers’ Offense Found Success in Shanahan’s Staple Plays

Bret Rumbeck
Nov 13, 2020 at 6:00 PM


All football energy flows through the Great Magnet, and he has decided the San Francisco 49ers will endure more than their fair share of pitfalls and anguish this season.

The 49ers began Week 9 already a hobbled franchise and were further undercut when wide receiver Kendrick Bourne tested positive for COVID-19 last Wednesday. Shortly after, tackle Trent Williams and wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk also landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

Only fools attempt to defy the negative energy that has gripped this rotten year.

I'm not privy to head coach Kyle Shanahan's game strategy, but the laundry list of players out last week must have forced him to fall back on his security blanket of pass plays.

There's nothing wrong with a coach or player using a comfortable set of plays during a game. Shanahan can use these to build early confidence, grab momentum, or as a quick turn-around after a turnover.

Indeed, Shanahan will again have these on his call sheet this Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, but he might be able to expand the passing game more now that Aiyuk and Bourne will be available this week.

1st Quarter - 2nd and 4 at the SF 37 (10:57)


If someone were to give me a drawing of 'drift' and ask what playbook it came from, I'd immediately guess it was a Turlock High design circa 1996/97. It looks far too simple to work in the NFL, but ideal for a one-read high school quarterback.

Yet, 'drift' has been in Shanahan's playbook since he was the offensive coordinator in Atlanta, if not longer. Current Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay had the same version of 'drift' in his 2014 Washington offense, though he called it 'strike.'

The first read in 'drift' is always the in-breaking route, with the second being the outlet route by the back. It's great to see Mullens want to push the ball downfield, as that element has been missing when Jimmy Garoppolo is on the field. Mullens is 6-for-8 with 199 yards and a touchdown with throws 20-yards or greater. Garoppolo, on the other hand, is 1-for-10 for 35 yards and two interceptions.


However, there was no need for Mullens to throw long. Wide receiver River Cracraft broke open just as the play is designed and could have landed the 49ers an early first down.

1st Quarter - 2nd and 7 at the SF 23 (6:25)


Last season, Garoppolo found Samuel at least three times for 80 yards on the 'dagger' concept, and that was just on the plays I diagramed.

Naturally, it made sense for Shanahan to keep the play on this year's call sheet. Mullens seems to love this play, and it was a massive gain for the 49ers on their second possession of the game.


Mullens' first read on the play was wide receiver Trent Taylor running the 'deep thru' route. Green Bay dropped into a Cover 2, which meant Taylor did not break as sharply into the middle of the field.

Wide receiver Richie James, running the 'widen dover' route, was the second read on the play. With both of Green Bay's safeties dropping into the field's deep halves, it opened up a massive area for James. Mullens had excellent protection on the play and was able to wait for James to break open.

Shanahan called 'dagger' on the 49ers' third possession. However, he used seven-man protection instead of a play-action. Running back Jerick McKinnon left the backfield too early, causing Mullens to throw a terrible pass that was easily intercepted.

1st Quarter - 3rd and Goal at the GB 4 (:54)


Shanahan likes to talk about the 'next man up' when the chips are down for the 49ers. Sometimes, that speech works to pump up the team; other times it sounds hollow when the reserve player cannot execute at a high level.

Wide receiver River Cracraft was the epitome of the 49ers' next man against Green Bay. He found himself a starting wide receiver for the 49ers last week, the first start of his career, and played in 89 percent of the offensive snaps. Mullens targeted Cracraft five times, including a red zone play that nearly resulted in his first career touchdown.


'Y Pitt' appears to be a new design for Shanahan, though I could be wrong and might have missed it in previous film studies. I like the concept because it's not a typical red zone play. Instead of just sending two or three receivers into the play, Shanahan sends all five. With limited space, the defenders can get bunched together or get lost in crossing routes behind them.


As noted above, Cracraft, tight end Jordan Reed and running back Jerick McKinnon were within a few yards of one another, forcing Green Bay's defenders to bunch together. Reed wasn't running a pick or rub route, but his abrupt halt froze Green Bay's coverage and opened up the back corner of the end zone for Cracraft.

Cracraft is the third read on the play, so it was impressive to see Mullens know how the play would develop and throw with anticipation.

3rd Quarter - 2nd and 10 at the SF 39 (1:15)


Green Bay killed the 49ers' defense last Thursday with quick, short throws that allowed its receivers to work in space. It was great to see Shanahan turn the quick pass back on the Packers, even though it was too late in the game.


Usually, I am not a fan of the wide receiver screen. However, I liked the added play-action to the concept, which had both Green Bay linebackers keying on running back JaMycal Hasty.


Cracraft set the play up for success with an excellent block on Green Bay cornerback Josh Jackson.

Once left tackle Justin Skule and left guard Laken Tomlinson broke away from the line of scrimmage, they both had an open field and nobody to block. Skule made his way downfield to take out free safety Darnell Savage.

James gained 47 yards on the play, which was the longest play from scrimmage for the 49ers.

4th Quarter - 1st and 10 at the SF 20 (6:10)


A few years back, I remember a 49er beat reporter drawing up a series of plays that the team needed to run. One suggestion was the very deceptive four verticals. I'm not sure why that play was so critical to the 49ers at the time, and I don't remember who was coaching, though it's not anything new. Versions of an 'all-go' have been in NFL playbooks for decades.


Fast forward to the Shanahan era, and we're treated to his version of 'all-go' with added flair: one receiver running a short 'now' route underneath the defense.

All four vertical routes are the main read for Mullens. The 'now' route, which appears to be the sure-fire open receiver, is nothing more than an outlet.


Mullens found tight end Ross Dwelley in a wide-open area of field for a gain of 36-yards, which was the fourth-longest offensive play for the 49ers.

These plays are great for Shanahan to have on his play sheet this Sunday, as each one can act as a confidence builder or even used to harness some free momentum.

With Aiyuk back and Bourne likely, I would like Shanahan to add a little more diversity in the offense. I hope he adds in 'X Scout Buffalo,' which mimics 'Aggie Now' but has one receiver run a pick route to free up the receiver running a 'now' route. It would be a great call to catch the Saints diagnosing the wrong play.

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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