• Bret Rumbeck

Building Shanahan's Ideal Quarterback

As we enter another week of courting Kyle Shanahan, 49er fans are provided the opportunity to see his offense on display. We can become our own Lady Justice, observing a football game with no objectivity and our swords of justice sheathed.

Regardless of outcome, Sunday’s NFC Championship game was a big stage for Shanahan. With his name in the national media for almost a month, he had no choice but to call a flawless game that dominated from opening snap to the Victory-I-On-First-Sound call.

When we watch an offense that could be running up and down the chunked turf at Levi’s Stadium, we may get dreamy-eyed thinking of the statistics Matt Ryan put up this year with Shanahan’s play calls.

That lovely dream comes to an abrupt end when we wonder: What kind of traits does a quarterback need to run this offense?

A Field General

Sunday’s game was the first time I’d willingly watched a Falcons game in years. When Ryan gets to the line, he becomes a field general. He’s making shifts, identifications, moving a receiver, calling an audible and then executing the play.

If you’re a football junkie, the dragon you chase is true quarterback leadership. You ache for the man behind center to shift the formation twice, motion the Y into the backfield, identify the Mike backer, slide the protection, audible into a pass that attacks the weak point in the defense and then execute the play to perfection.

For whatever reason, Harbaugh, Tomsula and Kelly employed a strategy to not allow the quarterback to lead the offense. It’s unclear why, but it made me fiend for a quarterback who could totally control an offense.

We’ve seen previous coaches call two plays, only allow the quarterback to “kill” one play, or simply “let it roll”. Other coaches get the offense to the line only to have the team look to the sideline for the call.

Neither system develops a quarterback intellectually, and has not always put the offense in the right situation.

Shanahan’s offense needs a quarterback to see the field at all times, read the subtle clues in the defense and make the right call with just a few ticks left on the play clock.

Accuracy is Key

Both 49ers quarterbacks have struggled with accuracy during their time in the NFL. Kaepernick’s career completion percentage is 59.8 percent, while Gabbert has completed 56 percent of his career throws.

On the other hand, Matt Ryan has a career completion percentage of 64.9, and this year, completed almost 70 percent of his passes. Ryan was threading the Packer defense, placing the ball exactly where his receiver needed to catch it for a big gain.


In the 2nd quarter with 8:10 on the clock, the Falcons lined up Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu in trips left. Jones was lined up in a plus split, with Gabriel in the slot and Sanu in a nasty split. Gabriel and Sanu ran go routes, while Jones ran a simple 3-yard square in. Ryan hit Jones in stride, allowing Jones to run for an additional 19 yards.

This was a quick, simple play, but if the pass is behind Jones, he may not gain 19 yards. Too far out in front and it’s either incomplete, or Jones is forced to make an acrobatic catch in open space. It’s a waste of a great play. Also, kudos to Shanahan: he called the perfect play against a Green Bay defense that was playing the wrong coverage.

Pocket Presence, Patience & Poise

There’s a fantastic set of Bill Walsh videos floating around on YouTube where Walsh breaks down how to play quarterback with Joe Montana as his student. It’s in 7 parts. Here is one of them.

Throughout the series, Walsh talks of the importance of footwork and timing, and how the quarterback’s drop needs to be in sync with the receiver’s route. Once the quarterback hits his last step, he looks to his first read. If it’s not there, go to the second and if he’s not there the third.

49ers fans lived during this glorious time of Walsh/Montana, and most of us understand the need for pocket presence, footwork and poise. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a quarterback climb a muddy pocket and find his third or fourth read in a progression for a positive gain.

Shanahan’s offense demands that Ryan remain patient in the pocket – with his feet continuously moving – so he can read his progressions, find an open receiver and delivering an on-time, accurate football.

So, Who’s the Answer?

Any fan can point to a veteran quarterback or a future draft pick and say, “That’s him. That’s the one I like.” It’s trial and error to find the right man to fit into the right system. And we may not have an answer the first day of training camp.

We get one more chance to see Shanahan’s offense go to work against the Patriots. I encourage you to watch with an impartial eye and think of who might best quarterback to lead the 49ers offense next season.