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Film From the Field House: Scripting the San Francisco 49ers’ Opening Offense Against the Los Angeles Rams

Bret Rumbeck
Nov 28, 2020 at 8:00 AM


The San Francisco 49ers are coming off a late-season bye week and still have an outside shot at the playoffs. It's a strange thing to type, considering the men wearing the intersecting letters on their helmets do not resemble a real threat to any opponent.

Yet, the 49ers have shown some fight. Against the New Orleans Saints, the 49ers opened the game dominating on both sides of the ball. The offense held the ball for 13:39 minutes, running 23 plays for 83 yards.

On the flip side, the 49ers' defense held the Saints to 8 yards in the first quarter. Overall, the defense kept two Saints quarterbacks under 150 yards throwing, and the Saints rush game to 114 yards.

Unfortunately, these are small diamonds buried in a constant shovel load of dung. The 49ers continue to fall apart as the games progress and cannot avoid mental and physical errors.

The 49ers still have head coach Kyle Shanahan calling plays, which gives them an immediate edge over any opponent – no matter how poorly the team is playing.

Here are five plays Shanahan should use in the opening series against the Los Angeles Rams.

Week 10: 2nd Quarter – 2nd and 2 at the SF 22 (6:05)


Last season, Shanahan called '15 Suzy' to open the game, resulting in an 83-yard touchdown run.

'Suzy' uses a deception that starts flowing weak but has the backs cut back strong. '14 Arc' does the opposite.


'Arc' has both backs start flowing strong, hence the '4' indicator in the play call. However, both backs bend back to the weakside on the third step. The offensive line blocks as if the play is flowing strong, drawing both linebackers away from the ball carrier.

The fullback is keying on the end man on the line of scrimmage, reading his key inside-out.


On the play above, running back JaMycal Hasty only gained 4 yards, but I like the deception in 'Arc' and it could catch the Rams on their collective heels on the opening series.

Week 9: 3rd Quarter – 3rd and 16 at the 50 (11:57)


We'll have to collectively agree to ignore the play's outcome and focus more on the design.

It appears that the 49ers will start second-year veteran Justin Skule at left tackle this Sunday. That thought does not give me a warm, confident feeling.

Shanahan's offense is not littered with pass protections that allow for double-team blocks. These exist, but remember the 49ers are not your local junior varsity squad. Professional linemen should be able to block the man in front confidently and without issue.

However, I expect Shanahan to use seven-man pass protections on Sunday, including man protection like 24/25.


In 24/25 protection, the offensive line is responsible for the four down defensive linemen and the Mike linebacker. The backs split and key on the outside linebackers on either side of the formation.

The strong side back has responsibility for the Sam and works to the strong safety or corner, while the weak side back has the Will and works to the free safety or corner.

Skule will still be on his own, but both backs need to be slow to enter the pass play - which did not happen against Green Bay. Running back Jerick McKinnon left far too early. The pocket collapsed, and quarterback Nick Mullens threw an ugly interception.

Week 7: 2nd Quarter – 1st and 10 at the NE 38 (8:46)


Let's assume that Shanahan calls a weak side run in the opening series, and it gained more than eight yards. A few plays later, Shanahan should call a play-action using a 'Wanda' look and demand Mullens throw the ball deep.


On the play above, linebacker Fred Warner had just intercepted quarterback Cam Newton. I'm in favor of grabbing momentum any way possible, so getting the ball into tight end George Kittle's hands was the right choice.

But as we know, the 49er quarterbacks have not thrown the ball downfield this season. It's time to break that bad habit.


Mullens needs to key on the high cross or the deep bench route to move the ball vertically and exorcise the deep ball curse looming in the quarterback room.

Week 5: 1st and 10 at the SF 25 (15:00)


If Shanahan doesn't open with 'Arc,' then expect a toss to the strong side. He has various plays to choose from, each with a subtle nuance that makes the play unique.


In Week 5, Shanahan called 'Toss 18 Zap', which gained five yards. Again, it's not an earth-shattering play, but these are the small plays the 49ers need that can add up to wins.

'Zap' is run from a single-back and attacks the strong side of the formation. It's an outside zone play, so the offensive line is using zone blocking.

In the play above, the run was going right, which means each offensive lineman looks to his right to determine if he is covered or uncovered.

An offensive lineman is covered when a defender is between the lineman's nose and the nose of the lineman to his left. The lineman is uncovered if that scenario is not occurring.

The covered lineman usually makes a 'reach' block on the defender to his left. The uncovered lineman runs to the second level to pick off a linebacker or pesky safety.


In 'Zap,' the wide receiver on the play side blocks the corner, not the strong safety like in 'Force.'

Week 10: 1st Quarter – 2nd and 13 at the SF 22 (14:23)


The 49ers offense is becoming slightly predictable, so it would not be shocking to see Shanahan call a version of 'Dragon F Check Over' to open the game.


I've noted this play and its derivatives are some of my favorites in the West Coast System. I'd run this play into the ground until the defense learned to stop a slant route, and then I'd run a 'sluggo' when the cornerback started to cheat the route.


It's a solid play to allow Mullens to get his timing down and build his confidence.

Each time the 49ers play the Rams, I forget how much I despise the men wearing the blue and yellow jersey. If the 49ers end up with a mediocre record, then I'd love for the team to demolish the Rams on Sunday.

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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