Potential Tricks Shanahan May be Hiding for 49ers Big Moments


Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

If you’ve come here looking to read about a flea-flicker or some double-reverse-toss-back-to-the-quarterback play, please find something else to read.

Varsity high school squads use trick plays in desperate times to squeeze out a playoff win against a team it should have throttled with its run game.

Indeed, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan probably has some wild triple-reverse play tucked soundly in his 500-page playbook. He might call it, resulting in a collective gasp from 49er fans watching the game from a plush sofa.

But teams that need to rely on playground wizardry to win games are not good football teams.

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, the late Bill Walsh said, “…I want us to have a play prepared and rehearsed. Say it is the last 20 seconds of a game and we’re losing. We have already practiced 6 plays that we can apply in that situation. That way, we know what to do, and we can calmly execute the plays. We’ll have no doubt in our minds, we will have more poise, and we can concentrate without falling prey to desperation.”

Shanahan has shown the world he does not often fall prey to desperation. Instead, he’s ready to call three or four plays depending on the outcome of what’s about to happen.

And the tricks we see, a tight end crossing the defense unscarred, isn’t anything more than clever sleight-of-hand that Shanahan’s used countless times before.

Here’s what you can expect to see this season.

Week 1: 1st Quarter – 2nd and 9 at the TB 32 (13:08)

The 49ers’ first pass play of the 2019 regular season was a 19-yard completion to tight end George Kittle.

You’d think, after months of film work, the Buccaneers would have been ready to cover Kittle, or at least be aware of where he was on the field.

Fake 18 is movement protection and looks like an outside zone run. The offensive line moved as one unit to the right toward the outside linebacker. The backs sold a fabulous fake, while the quarterback gained depth on his roll left.

With the entire defense reacting to the offense, Kittle snuck into the passing lane, as quiet as a church mouse, on a shallow cross route.

Of note, I believe the play above should be Fake 18 Zorro Keep Left Y Shallow.

Week 2: 1st Quarter – 1st and 10 at the CIN 38 (11:21)

Shanahan’s “leak” concept is a thing of beauty, especially when he called it against the hapless Cincinnati Bengals.

Unlike the Buccaneers, the Bengals thought they were wise and put two defenders on Kittle. However, the double team cleared the way for wide receiver Marquise Goodwin’s leak route from the formation’s right side.

18/19 Wanda is an outside zone run that attacks the weak side of the formation. It’s a staple play from Shanahan’s run game.

With the movement play, Fake 19 Wanda, the offensive line sold Wanda on the front side. The point is to draw in the linebackers and leave a vast, green space for the Z receiver to find.

The key for the man running the leak route is to be under the linebackers, hiding as much as possible from the safety’s hardened eyes. With the flow of the play heading right, there should be nobody looking for the leak.

Look at all the Bengal defenders – each one looked to the right side of the play, and not one pupil was on Goodwin.

Goodwin scored a 38-yard touchdown, putting the 49ers up by seven points early in the contest.

Week 8 – 1st Quarter: 2nd and 8 at the SF 38 (2:32)

Shanahan’s drop-back passes can fool a defense with just subtle deception. He has a number of plays with double moves – C.O. China, Cop and Jerk Off – all incorporated into three-, five-, and seven-step drop pass plays.

The double-move from a wide receiver, if run correctly, is just as lethal as any flea-flicker play and twenty times more successful.

Double-moves catch defensive backs and linebackers sleeping or guessing a route. Kittle was able to leave Carolina’s linebacker in the dust on his branch-nod route.

Further, look at the position of Carolina’s single-high safety. He was at least 20 yards away and still back-peddling when Kittle broke upfield.

Football will always be a game of deception, but a team cannot rely on a bag of magic tricks and expect to compete for a championship trophy. Shanahan’s preparation and ability to know his game plan five plays ahead will keep the 49ers at the top of the NFC this fall.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

All images courtesy of NFL.com.

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