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Film From the Field House: Suggested Improvements and Evaluations for the 49ers

Bret Rumbeck
Nov 21, 2020 at 10:00 AM

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Nobody likes the always-the-victim mentality. We all know that person and his/her endless tales of woe, discord, and pain.

The San Francisco 49ers are not complaining, but they are the unfortunate victim of the never-ending fallout of this rotten year. Indeed, the New York Jets are winless, but the 49ers had the potential to dominate the NFC again this year.

As they tormented Odysseus, the fates felt it necessary for the men in scarlet red and gold to suffer.

The amount of misfortune that's happened to the 49ers has been entirely out of their control. They cannot control a sticky artificial surface any more than they can prevent a rogue defensive lineman rolling up on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's foot.

There is an upside to the misery. The 49ers can control the rest of their season. They can use the bye weekend to reevaluate what they've already done and where they can make real improvement.

These are not significant adjustments, but a commitment to do the little things right and review what moves might be needed during the offseason.

Do the Little Things

Sport demands an athlete do the little things flawlessly to be successful, which is even more true in professional football. Games are won and lost by inches – a pass that's just an inch past a receiver's fingertips, a defensive lineman who's pushed two inches back that creates a gap for a running back.

This season, the 49ers have not done enough of the little things to win games – both from starters and reserve players.

During Weeks 9 and 10, rookie offensive lineman Colton McKivitz has played 44 of 128 snaps at right guard, roughly 34 percent. I still do not advocate converting tackles into guards, but McKivitz has only allowed one hurry and one pressure during the last two weeks.

Veteran Tom Compton, who has also been playing at right guard, has allowed two hurries and two pressures. Oddly, there's no real drop in talent at right guard.

2nd Quarter – 4th and 1 at the NO 41 (1:55)

We can debate the merits of the play call below, but it was an excellent example of the little things the 49ers need to do well.

An offensive line needs to push one yard, especially the lineman blocking the designated hole.

Center Daniel Brunskill and left guard Laken Tomlinson worked a double team block on the defensive tackle, leaving McKivitz to clear out defensive tackle David Onyemata.

McKivitz had zero technique on the block. He shot out low and tried to shoulder Onyemata out of the way. That is not a block that will work in professional football. The missed assignment resulted in a two-yard loss and a failed fourth-down conversion.

3rd Quarter – 1st and 10 at the SF 44 (11:08)
Football teams are not immune from errors, and as fans, we all need to allow for a few a game.

What frustrates me is line play that resembles a confused junior varsity squad rather than a team of professionals.

It's Week 10, and an offensive line should not go from horizontal to vertical in a split second. Somehow, the 49er ground game is averaging 112 yards per game and has scored 15 touchdowns – but it has not been the reliable force needed for Shanahan's system to work in part because of line play like this.

A Good Reflection for John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan

There's part of me that genuinely feels terrible for general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan. Both men showed up and finally gave honest answers to the fans, breathing life into a deflated franchise. They said it would take time to rebuild the 49ers rather than dupe people into believing the team was merely reloading. Frankly, their attitude and honesty were refreshing after too many seasons of undermining.

Lynch and Shanahan followed up with their promise and got the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV, so it made sense to come into the 2020 season with high expectations.

But the lack of planning for catastrophe is on both of their shoulders. Now is a good time for both men to reflect on how to build the 2021 roster.

First, it starts with the offensive line. Shanahan cannot ignore this position group any longer and hope that finding low-round draft picks will pan out into stable reserve positions.

Second, it's time to bring in assistants who can develop players.

There's been chatter regarding the 49ers' quarterbacks this season and their overall drop in talent. The three men who take snaps for the 49ers each have their unique struggles, but there are commonalities. Chiefly, not one can read underneath defenders.

Garoppolo's interceptions and the one Mullens threw against the Saints were disguised defenders who dropped into the throwing lane.

3rd Quarter – 3rd and 12 at the NO 32 (6:59)
Strong safety Malcolm Jenkins started the play faking a stunt through the A-gap, but immediately dropped into coverage at the snap. For a second, he was out of position.

Both dig routes and the basic route were the first reads for Mullens. Linebacker Demario Davis mirrored running back Jerick McKinnon on the flat route, which opened up a throwing window for Mullens.

However, Jenkins moved immediately to his right and found a comfortable spot to pick off Mullens' pass to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk.

It's a bad read from Mullens. There was no way Jenkins would continue to drop to his left with a single receiver running a meaningless sideline route. The better option was to hit McKinnon immediately in the flat and let him work in the open space.

Whether or not Shanahan takes time with his quarterbacks to hone their weaknesses into strengths is not something I am privy to. Maybe he can go over the errors in the film room, but I do not know if he's physically working with the quarterbacks on improving technique and reads.

The current quarterback coach Shane Day is not cutting the mustard. There's nothing in Day's resume that jumps out as someone who is going to take any quarterback and make him a shining star in the NFL.

A new face in this position, maybe someone with a longer pedigree of developing quarterbacks, is something the 49ers should consider during the offseason.

The playoffs are a distant dream for the 49ers, but there are reasons to be optimistic for the team. Hopefully, they can become more mentally disciplined and find ways to scrap together a handful of wins to close out the year.

All images courtesy of
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.


  • NinerGM
    Great article Bret. As always well thought out and instructional. Keep writing. Keep contributing. It's always appreciated.
    Nov 21, 2020 at 1:05 PM
    Response: Hey now! Thank you for the kind words.
  • Paul
    It is pretty much a lost season, but there are some great opportunities to experiment. Teams like the Jets never seem to learn from their failures and bad luck I think the 49ers will learn plus they aren’t a garbage team they had an insane amount of injury and a bogus Covid connection against Green Bay. Things I always liked about the Patriots: The way they tailor their game based on opponents. That players can play multiple positions. They aren’t afraid to let players go if they are too expensive. They rarely go insane in free agency. I hope Shanahan can become a legend here, and not on his second head coaching job like Bill B. One thing I’d like to see is the 49ers to have a solid deep line that they can sub in instead of a crazy expensive line. Armstead should not be getting paid this much regardless of Buckner leaving. I’d rather have a bunch of fresh Hyders getting rotated in to cause havoc. Players that rise up during adversity are keepers. With Jimmy G out the offensive line needs to rise up. McGlinchy decides he only wants to run block this year. They should seriously consider trading him.
    Nov 21, 2020 at 10:43 AM

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