The 49ers’ offensive plan this season has been nothing more than a hypothetical.
What kind of magic could coach Kyle Shanahan and his offensive staff perform with a lineup that features Raheem Mostert, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle?
It will still be a while before Kittle is able to get on the field as he recovers from a fractured cuboid bone in his right foot. But the 49ers are thrilled they will have the other three playmakers for one of the rare times this season.
And it could not come at a better time, as the 49ers face a huge Week 13 matchup Monday night against the Buffalo Bills in Glendale, Arizona.
“That's the frustration you deal with every year as a coach,” Shanahan said about the 49ers’ problems getting their key offensive pieces together at the same time. “I know this year has probably definitely been the worst, so it's been frustrating. Not just for me, but everyone in the building. I'm sure the fans, too.”
Through 11 games, Mostert, Samuel and Aiyuk have appeared in the same game just twice. Mostert played just half of one of those games, as he left the Week 6 game against the Los Angeles Rams after one second-half carry due to an ankle injury.
The sample size is small, but the 49ers have been clearly more productive when those three are on the field at the same time.
There have been just 51 snaps this season with Mostert, Samuel and Aiyuk on the field together -- and none of those plays came with Nick Mullens at quarterback. Mullens is set to make his sixth start on Monday night in place of Jimmy Garoppolo, who remains sidelined with a high-ankle sprain.
In those games against Miami (Week 5) and half of the 49ers’ first game against the Rams, the 49ers averaged 7.2 yards per play with Mostert, Samuel and Aiyuk on the field at the same time. Those numbers included 27 pass plays that averaged 8.1 yards and 24 run plays that gained 6.3 yards a pop.
In the 49ers’ other 659 offensive plays this season, they averaged 5.5 yards per play: 6.6 yards on 384 pass plays; and 3.9 yards on 275 runs.
“Just getting all these guys back, it just brings some continuity to everyone,” Shanahan said. “I know it's a lot easier for the quarterbacks, too.”
Mostert and Samuel were key factors in the 49ers’ offense in their critical Week 12 victory over the Rams. Aiyuk got a full week of practice in preparation to face Buffalo after being cleared off the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list
“Yeah, that's awesome,” Mullens said. “I've loved working with Brandon since camp. I really think he's a great player. And then just to have everybody back, it makes this team better.
“We got Deebo back and we got Raheem back. We got Jeff (Wilson Jr.) back and to see how much better those guys are with the ball in space it makes this team better.”