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Kyle Shanahan explains why the zone read remains a sound scheme

It’s all about having the right people, making the commitment, and staying healthy.

The zone read has been a much discussed, and sometimes much misunderstood offensive attack. Kyle Shanahan has had to deal with that for some time dating back to his 2012 season as Washington’s offensive coordinator. There have been questions about the effectiveness since then, but in reality, the questions often come from a fundamental misunderstanding.

Shanahan met with 49ers media on Wednesday, and while he had plenty to discuss, the most interesting part came when he was asked about the zone read. He was specifically asked if he thinks it will ever have the same success as it did in 2012, or if defensive coordinators had figured it out.

Mark Bullock pulled out video specifically of that question and answer. I’ve transcribed it, and it’s a good one.

“No, there isn’t anything to figure out. It’s a very sound scheme. It’s, how do you want to attack it, what do you want to do off of it, and will 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 at running 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 always, that guy. And if you don’t protect him right and if you don’t do the right stuff, it is tough to stay healthy. People talk about our 2012 year, but our running game was 70 percent outside zone — it was one-third zone read. But everyone was scared of it, so they played for it every play, which is why Alfred Morris led the league in rushing — or I think he was like second or third. But it was because of the threat of zone read, which allows you to do a ton of other stuff. That doesn’t mean you have to, it’s not your base offense, but if you’re in pistol or shotgun, you can run it at any time. And defenses have been playing 11 against 10 for so long, and now all of a sudden you have to play 11 on 11, and if you’re not, that changes everything you do.

It’s not that they’ve caught up, you just need the right people, the right commitment, you have to stay healthy, and you’ve gotta have the whole package together. We’re just running zone read, well they’ll stop that. What are you doing off that.