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A radically run-based offense?

By signing Tevin Coleman, Shanahan signaled he might be happy to build on the 49ers strength

Arizona Cardinals v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Last week I discussed possible offensive free agents who would help build out Kyle Shanahan’s vision of a massively multiple offense — starting with Le’Veon Bell. He decided to go in a different direction, but the Niners signed Shanahan’s former Falcons player Tevin Coleman, another RB with excellent pass catching skills.

Last year, the running game was a real (and rare) strength of this team, along with George Kittle at tight end. This move suggests that instead of balancing the McKinnon - Breida axis and George Kittle’s brilliance with equally good wide receivers, Shanahan and Lynch might be doubling down on a squad of run/pass backs to form an offensive attack radically different from anything else in the NFL right now.

There is one huge advantage to such an approach. Teams are rostering up (and scheming up) to focus on the pass, making nickel sub-packages more common than base (running) packages and looking for hybrid safety/linebackers.

This makes sense at a time when 11 personnel is the dominant grouping and fullbacks are nearly extinct. But it makes teams vulnerable to a team that bucks that trend, that has a hard-blocking fullback and someone like Kittle who is both a blocking and move TE.

If the offense has run-only players it would still be easy to load the box and pull the safety in. But what if you have a lineup on the field with four different backs who could run, block or receive at a high level — and a burner WR to stretch the field? It would allow a coach good at scheming to create a LOT of mismatches.

Consider one crazy formation. There’s probably an easy way for a defense to stop this, but I can’t see it, so shoot me down in the comments before I get too excited.

You have doublestacks wide — Tevin Coleman behind Juszczyk on one side, and Jerick McKinnon behind Kittle on the other. Marquise Goodwin or maybe Dante Pettis is in the slot, or in the backfield alongside Jimmy Garoppolo.

Now, you have a lot of options. You could run 4 verts with any one of the five staying close as your hot / checkdown target - hopefully, the one with your opponent’s best CB on him. Hell, run 5 verts and just make sure you throw quickly. They can all catch, and someone’s going to have a linebacker covering.

Or — Coleman and McKinnon both step back for a screen, and Jimmy G picks his favorite. Now you have two DBs versus a crunching blocker and a lightning-fast back in the open field. In Coleman’s case, his combination of speed and physicality would allow him to destroy a lot of DBs and outrun the rest. How does the safety cover this?

The second time you run this play, either Jus or Kittle fakes the lead block and is probably open down the sideline.

Or - Jus and Coleman run a post and a go route, respectively. McKinnon and Kittle run staggered slants, putting linebackers and the safety in conflict, and Pettis runs a wheel route out of the backfield to the side they just vacated.

You see my point. There are a lot of very different plays you could run out of this formation, and none of them are typical in today’s NFL. Players would be forced to make difficult decisions in the moment against five very fast players who can all catch and get major yards after catch.

In Shanahan’s hands, that one formation alone could be devastating. Who knows what else he could draw up?