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One tweak the 49ers made to their running game that’s helped propel them in the playoffs

Film room today breaks down one minor run game adjustment that’s had major impact on the running game.

NFC Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

This season Kyle Shanahan evolved his running game out of necessity due to personnel and defensive adjustments by opposing teams. When the second half of the season started, the Shanahan began to get Deebo Samuel involved more in the running game, with certain staple wide zone concepts being run out of their Deebo “Deadpool” package.

Zorro wide zone toss strong

Defenses made adjustments to the 49ers wide zone as the season went on, so Kyle installed another tweak to his run game to stay ahead of the adjustments and steal back blocking numbers in the running game. The play in question is a strong outside-zone running play the 49ers call “18/19 Zorro.”

The “Zorro” tag to the concept allows the tight end to kick out the wide defensive end or linebacker on the line of scrimmage while the fullback blocks inside and protects the tight end’s defender from any inside move before moving on to the next defender through the hole.

3-4 defenses like to set the edge hard with their outside linebackers and discourage teams from trying to get to the edge. Shanahan has a variety of tags to his outside zone concepts, and the Zorro tag is the go-to run play against aggressive 3-4 teams that like to set the edge hard and force the ball carrier back inside. It gives the offense better angles to handle the outside linebackers that align wider to set the edge.

As teams have widened their edge players and bumped their fronts over, the 49ers have found it increasingly more difficult to get to the edge in their game.

Defenses align a defensive lineman outside the play side tackle that eliminates the double team block from that side and either force the ball carrier inside or outside his normal path and allow defenders to rally to the ball carrier.

YY Zorro

Shanahan’s counter to this has been to steal back a gap offensively by bringing over an extra blocker to counter the defensive front. To do this, Shanahan has inserted a second tight end in place of a wide receiver (22 personnel) to get favorable blocking matchups upfront to the play side.

The two tight ends to the play side allow the offense to function the way it used to on a regular Zorro run out of 21 personnel. The inside tight end can now double team block with the play side tackle while the extra tight end kicks out the edge defender and allows the fullback to prevent the inside move as well as reach the next level defender.

You can see in the cut-ups that the 49ers have a couple of different ways to run it with a short motion by the fullback or a jet motion by another tight end from the opposite side, just a few of the ways they can hide the concept. Notice in the 3rd clip in the cut-up how they use Trent Williams as an eligible player so they can motion him across and have him pancake a few people to create a running lane.


Teams rarely make wholesale adjustments to their scheme this late in the season and the playoffs but will add new wrinkles to their staple concepts that are easy to execute. Kyle Shanahan likes to tinker with his staple concepts, and plays like this show how he’s able to stay ahead of the defensive adjustments. There’s a good chance we have not seen all the ways they can hide this run, and it’s a good bet we may see it and a few adjustments off of it in the NFC Championship game.