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Jimmy Garoppolo’s new language: Comparing the 49ers and Patriots playbook verbiage

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How different can one play be?

NFL: San Francisco 49ers-Jimmy Garoppolo Press Conference Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Garoppolo has likely been staring at Kyle Shanahan’s playbook non-stop since Bill Belichick sent him to the San Francisco 49ers. He has an entirely new language to learn and, while he has a bit of a rosetta stone in that he’s played NFL football, he still needs to spend a lot of time decoding.

Bill Belichick uses the Erhardt-Perkins system of terminology to build his plays. In this system, plays are organized and referred to by their concept. Rather than using the Air Coryell numbering system to detail each receiver’s route, Belichick can get a one word call in that tells both QB and receivers what concept to run. Given that Garoppolo didn’t even have a playbook at Eastern Illinois, the Erhardt-Perkins system is the only one he knows.

In his fantastic article on the benefits of Erhardt-Perkins on The Ringer Grantland, Chris Brown details the language’s structure using one of the Patriots staple plays, Ghost/Tosser:

This is actually two different concepts put together — “ghost/tosser,” which has the Patriots run the ghost concept to one side and the tosser concept to the other. Ghost has the outermost receiver, whoever it is, run a vertical route, one inside receiver run to a depth of roughly eight yards before breaking flat to the outside, and the innermost receiver run immediately to the flat. It’s a form of the “stick” or “turn” concept that essentially every NFL team uses. On the other side, tosser means that the receivers run the double-slant concept.

Here’s what the play looks like in the Patriots’ playbook.

Image from Chris Brown’s site, Smart Football

Pay special attention to F Right - 72 Ghost/Tosser. The play tells you a specific player alignment (F Right), then the number for the formation (72). Then you get the play concepts (Ghost/Tosser). There are play notes indicating a 5-man protection scheme and other potential formations used to run the play.

Mike Shanahan’s 2004 Denver Broncos playbook details a very similar play. The verbiage Kyle uses to build his playbook is identical, so it can act as a good proxy to compare the play call language. The formations are not identical, but the closest play call to F-Right 72 Ghost Tosser I could find in Mike Shanahan’s 2004 playbook is (T) Solo Right ‘B’ right 322 Scat ‘Y’ Stick Lion.

West Coast play calls are often based around the primary receiver’s job. Z-in, X-Hook, or in this case Y-Stick, are common. But there is a lot of additional information in the play call. You get the formation (Solo Right) with a (T) or Tiger designation, meaning a a second tight end replaces the full back. The protection, 322 Scat, means the strong side guard looks for a double team and running back gets a free release into the route without blocking responsibilities. Your secondary passing concept is Lion, also known as double-slants.

If you wanted to get picky, I am pretty sure the like-for-like formation is Far West Right Zoom, so a nearly identical play call would be something like Far West Right Zoom 322 Scat ‘Y’ Stick Lion.

Jimmy Garoppolo is going to be the second string quarterback against the Arizona Cardinals and Kyle Shanahan has a limited set of plays for the new 49ers quarterback. Garoppolo will also rely on a wrist band, something Shanahan generally dislikes. While I want to see Garoppolo play as much as anyone, it’s probably best that the potential franchise quarterback get time to really understand the nuances of his new language.