Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports


Film From the Field House: Five Positive Plays From a Hot and Cold 49ers’ Offense

Bret Rumbeck
Dec 19, 2020 at 8:08 PM


Well, everybody's on fire, but it's a snowin' in a cold blizzard.
- Curtis Knight.

If this foul year of NFL football has taught me anything, it's that offseason hype and predictions should always be ignored.

Indeed, the San Francisco 49ers came into the 2020 season chalked to the brim with high ambition and potential. But as many wise football coaches have said, "Potential in one hand and nothing in the other is the same thing."

Imagine trying to run a football team that's held together with kindergarten craft supplies due to injuries and a global pandemic. That, Gentle Reader, is this year's 49ers.

Despite these headwinds, the 49ers have run hot and cold each week. Their defense, for example, is still a threat to the opposition. Last week, the 49ers held the Washington Football Team to 12 total first downs and 193 net yards. Washington had to punt eight times, with the 49ers' defense forcing seven 3-and-outs.

Those stats alone should have been enough for an average high school team to score points and coast to a victory.

But the 49ers' offense is as reliable as an old car in cold weather. Even if the car finally starts, there's no telling what might happen at the first stop sign.

There are moments and even a string of plays that go well for quarterback Nick Mullens. He is capable of leading the team on scoring drives, but he lacks any real consistency.

Rather than focus on what the 49ers' offense did wrong, here are a few plays that went well for the team against Washington.

1st Quarter: 1st and 10 at the SF 36 (14:13)


There was a lot of chatter about how poorly the 49ers' offensive line played against Washington. Some of the criticism was deserved, but most of it was not.

The five trench men gave Mullens time to throw the football. What he did with those clear pockets was another story.

Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne had a carnival grab bag of a football game against Washington. However, he did open the game with a 16-yard snag that brought the 49ers into Washington territory.


I'm not entirely clear what route Bourne was supposed to run, or where Mullens thought he'd end up. It does look like Bourne ran a curl route as he slowed a bit after rounding off the pattern.



Mullens must have expected Bourne to end up more toward the middle of the field, as that's where the ball ended up after an unnecessary pocket dance. Fortunately, Bourne made a diving catch to keep the drive alive.

1st Quarter: 1st and 10 at the SF 24 (11:25)


2/3 Scat is slide protection that sends four offensive linemen away from the call, with the tackle protecting the opposite edge. The linemen have no backfield help, as both backs are typically running hot or short routes as a dump-off option for the quarterback.


The 49ers' offensive line faced a 'Navajo' front on the play, meaning both guards and the center were covered. The slide protection still works when facing this type of front, but it's harder to see.


Center Daniel Brunskill took nose tackle Daron Payne slightly to his left, while right guard Colton McKivitz and right tackle Mike McGlinchey slid to the strong side of the formation.

Washington sent five men on a blitz, but the 49ers' offensive line had it covered. Mullens had time to wait for the play to develop but had to check it down to running back Raheem Mostert for six yards.

1st Quarter: 2nd and 1 at the WAS 48 (4:29)


'Rider' has been in Shanahan's playbook for years now. You might know it as a Yankee concept, which is a two-man route combination. One receiver runs a streak that can bend toward the middle of the field or the sideline, while the other runs a high crossing route across the gridiron.

I like this play call because it forced Mullens to read two deep routes, something 49er quarterbacks have failed to do this season. Further, with two men running routes, it left seven men to protect Mullens, providing him time to see the play develop.


P14/15 pass protection tells the offensive line to block aggressively as if the play is a run to the strong side. 'Zorro' in the call is a key for both backs to head to the strong side after executing the run fake.


Plays like these are why a successful run game is critical to overall balance in Shanahan's system.

2nd Quarter: 3rd and 4 at the SF 26 (14:34)


2/3 Jet protection, one of the primary protections used in Shanahan's offense, is slide protection that sends four offensive linemen away from the call, with the tackle and back protecting the opposite edge.

The look of 2/3 Jet changes depending on the defensive front. Each man's reads and responsibility can alter slightly due to the position of the Mike linebacker or a defensive lineman.


At the start of the second quarter, Shanahan called in a 3 Jet protection, which running back Jeff Wilson executed beautifully.

Wilson's job is to make a double read, inside to the outside, starting head up at the center. With Washington showing a three-man front, his first read was linebacker Jon Bostic.


Bostic hit the A-gap at the snap, but Wilson was right there to pick him up. Left guard Laken Tomlinson flipped back and gave Wilson an assist.

Mullens had time in a very tidy pocket to find wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk for an 18-yard gain.

4th Quarter: 1st and Goal at the WAS 6 (10:24)


When the 49ers' offense is playing poorly, the response from some is that Shanahan isn't getting creative in his play calling.

What exactly is a creative play call? A simple play like 'drift' can gain 25 or more yards if it's called at the right time, while a school-yard design with five receivers using triple moves and rub routes could fall flat on its face.

Shanahan's movement plays are creative. Most of the designs have the entire team moving in one direction, with one or two players moving against the grain to find an open spot on the field.

'F Slide' is a creative play. The backs were on a path that looked like 'Arc Bend' behind the offensive line moving right. Both movements baited nearly all of Washington's defenders to flow with the offense.


Fullback Kyle Juszczyk cut to his left on his third step and had nobody near him. Mullens was able to politely throw the ball to Juszczyk for an easy six points.

The 49ers' offensive line is one of many scapegoats this season, and I have been guilty of hanging some heavy albatrosses on them. However, the offensive line was not to blame for the loss to Washington. The 49ers started a back-up quarterback and got that level of play out of him for sixty minutes.

The 49ers can win behind their offensive line and with Mullens behind center, but it will take a level of mental discipline that Mullens has yet to show this year.

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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