Kyle Shanahan gives detailed explanation why 49ers' offense isn't a gimmick

To some NFL insiders and observers, the read-option offense is not to be taken seriously.

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has derisively called it the “flavor of the day” – but that was five years ago, and it’s still here.

San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is likely the read-option’s biggest acolyte in NFL circles, and on Wednesday, he broke down exactly why he’s not ditching it anytime soon.

‘They have to play 11-on-11’

Shanahan, who is now in his second season as 49ers head coach and first full season with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo as the starter, was asked during his news conference whether he believed defenses had figured out the zone read.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan explained why he likes the read-option offense. (AP)
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan explained why he likes the read-option offense. (AP)

The questioner referenced the 2012 season, Shanahan’s second as offensive coordinator with Washington and Robert Griffin III’s rookie year. Shanahan installed the system for the first time, and Washington went 10-6 that year with an offense ranked in the top 5.

“No, there isn’t anything to figure out,” Shanahan said. “It’s a very sound scheme.

“It’s how do you want to attack it? What do you want to do off it when they 100 percent commit to stop it? Which you can, but that opens up everything else, so what do you do to scare them out of everything else? Is your quarterback good enough to run with the football to make them commit to stop it? And once they do, is he good enough to make the passes that he has to that they just opened up. And if he is, that’s a huge issue. It’s tough to find that guy. And if you don’t protect him right, if you don’t do the right stuff, it is tough to stay healthy.

“People talk about that 2012 year, but our running game was 70 percent outside zone. It was one-third zone read. But everybody was scared of it, so they played for it every play, which is why Alfred Morris [was second in] the league in rushing … it was because of the zone read, which allows you to do a ton of other stuff.”


And then Shanahan hit on a brilliantly simple idea that’s at the root of the system’s success: defenses have to commit to covering the quarterback, putting both sides on equal footing.

“It’s not your base offense, but if you’re in Pistol or Shotgun [formations], you can run it at any time. And defenses have been playing 11 against 10 for so long and now they have to play 11-on-11, and if you’re not, it changes everything you have to do,” he said.

Joe Staley is a big fan

One of the Niners’ leaders is veteran tackle Joe Staley; now entering his 12th NFL season, Shanahan is the sixth head coach and seventh offensive coordinator he’s played for. And he’s a big fan of Shanahan, who’s only five years older than him.

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“I’ve never been around a play-caller like him as far as the Xs and Os and just completely understanding how every single piece fits together,” Staley said on the Rich Eisen Show . “He’s like next-level, genius stuff that I’ve never been around…You have full, full confidence every single time you’re on the field that this is the exact right play call that we need.”

Fans, media appreciate the openness

Over the years, we’ve seen coaches mostly become more and more tight-lipped in front of media. The Patriots’ Bill Belichick is obviously the front-runner here, though Rex Ryan’s free-wheeling foolishness didn’t work out too well for him in his final years with the Jets and his brief stint with the Bills.

But as he showed on Wednesday, Shanahan is somewhere in between, in a positive way. We hear over and over how complicated NFL offenses in particular can be, and Shanahan is helping both the media that cover him and his team’s fans by offering useful information on his system and why he’s committed to it.

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