Shanahan and his creativity in run game gives 49ers big chance at maintaining winning formula

Kyle Shanahan is one of the top five play-callers in the NFL, and when you look at the 5-0 49ers what’s really intriguing is that he’s doing it rushing the football instead of creating some elaborate pass concepts.

They were running all over Cleveland on Monday night two weeks ago, but then lost (fullback) Kyle Juszczyk late and it was tough sledding the rest of the way, mostly because the game plan against the Browns was heavy Juszczyk.

David Carr

He wasn’t coming off the field. When Juszczyk was injured, like everyone else, I thought, “There goes that run game …” But they came back last week and beat the Rams in Los Angeles and they didn’t just utilize zone runs, which is the system that Kyle has been in forever, going back to his dad, Mike Shanahan, when he was in Denver.

He changed it up. They used (tight end) George Kittle at fullback, used two- and three-tight end sets, and they really got creative in the run game. They ran some gap schemes, some power runs, some counter plays and some traps. They lined up and ran it 41 times against the Rams; a team shouldn’t be able to do that with Aaron Donald out there, and they did.

It was impressive, and they’re doing it in so many different ways. They have three backs who can go out there and get yards and the ways they use Kittle, that can’t be overstated.

That just speaks to Kyle’s ability and his knowledge of offensive football. He has always been great at that. He has all of these little tweaks off the run game that lead into the play-action pass game, and Jimmy Garoppolo has done a great job of handling all of that and not making too many mistakes.

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) stiff-arms Los Angeles Rams cornerback Marcus Peters (22) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Los Angeles. Alex Gallardo ASSOCIATED PRESS

Couple that with that defense and they have the formula to go a long way.

We talked about it a little last week with how running the football and playing good defense is still what wins games in this league.

The 49ers’ combination is really unique with the run game, the ability to control the clock. They can keep the football in their hands no matter who they play, and that’s a formula for winning at this point.

What is wrong with the Chiefs?

Kansas City has lost two games in a row, both of them playing out in the same way.

The Colts and Texans ran the ball at them, stayed on the field for long stretches. On defense they both played tight man-to-man outside, challenging Patrick Mahomes to throw on time and in rhythm and to the right guy.

If one side is struggling, the other side can usually pick it up and help them, but when the book is out on you on both sides of the ball, you have some real issues.

The Chiefs do, right now.

On the defensive front, I don’t think it’s personnel. They’re just stunting out of a lot of plays and they’re making it really easy. The Colts ran straight at them. With the Texans, a lot of it was inside run with a tight end or a receiver working in front or behind Deshaun Watson to attract the attention of those linebackers.

But with both there have been some huge creases in the front.

The Chiefs have some guys up there who can make plays, but they’re taking themselves out of it with a lot of the stuff that they’re doing.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo needs to settle it down and play a little more man coverage outside, load the box up. They just can’t give up the type of yardage they’re giving up on the ground.

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense has struggled in back to back losses with defenses playing tight man coverage outside. Ben Margot ASSOCIATED PRESS

It really comes down to simplifying it a little bit. I was with Steve Spagnuolo in New York and he likes to get exotic and do different things. They don’t need to do that at this point, especially when they’re giving up so many big runs. They have to simplify it, make sure guys are in the right gaps.

Question of the week

From James Grubb: As a quarterback you had radio communication with your offensive coaches. Do you think that college quarterbacks would benefit from having radio communication for play calls? What do you think are the pros or cons?

It would be great in college. The communication is just one way – I wish we had a microphone, but we don’t, so they only get to tell us the information. We don’t get to have a conversation. In the NFL, it cuts off with 15 seconds on the play clock and after that you’re on your own, but that gives the offensive or defensive coordinator or head coach enough time to get the play in, get the information in.

The hard part is they have to make sure each team has it.

In the NFL, the league is in control of all that equipment – the teams don’t have their own gear, it’s whatever is at that stadium, and the NFL sets it up. So, the NCAA would have to purchase all of that equipment and have it ready at each stadium.

But I think the same system could be used in college – you see so many times teams will go through an initial cadence or hand clap and then the whole offense will look to the sideline for a hand signal or some kind of play call.

You could eliminate all of that, and the coach could just tell the quarterback what play he wanted to run. It’s a pretty good system.

David Carr is a former Fresno State quarterback, NFL No. 1 draft pick and Super Bowl champion. Now he’s an analyst for the NFL Network and writing a weekly column in collaboration with The Bee’s Robert Kuwada. The column is sponsored by Valley Children’s Hospital.

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