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Shanahan staples: How misdirection and deception help Trey Lance and the offense

A 3-play breakdown to preview what the offense could look like this year

San Francisco 49ers v Houston Texans Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

With ten days left until the season opener and Trey Lance’s 2022 debut, fans are waiting with excitement and curiosity on how Kyle Shanahan’s game plan will evolve with Lance as the starter. During Lance’s two starts in 2021, both game plans couldn’t have been more opposite.

In Week 5 against Arizona, it felt like Shanahan wasn’t comfortable with many of his trusted play calls and featured a very run-heavy plan for Lance. In an absolute must-win matchup with the Houston Texans, Shanahan might have offered a glimpse into the future of his playcalling by introducing a passing concept not seen in 2021 and wrinkles to his dynamic running attack.

A reasonable expectation for this season is Shanahan leans on the run even more than in previous years while his young QB gains experience and develops. I, for one, will be expecting an increase in rushing attempts and a decrease in passing attempts, but more of an emphasis on downfield passing.

It’s important to note that Lovie Smith game-planned around what the 49ers put on tape with Lance against Arizona. Houston came out with a single high safety look for much of the contest to allow another defender to play in the box to stop Lance from running. This is a stark contrast to the double safety looks from Houston’s base defense. Smith’s MO is stunting his defensive line to fill gaps up front while in two high safety looks.

Here are two running concepts and one passing concept from Week 17 against Houston:

First play of the game: 21 personnel Outside Zone/Split Flow, FB bluff

Misdirection is the name of the game with Shanahan. Putting things on tape and then running different actions from the same look is something Shanahan is great at. This blocking look was used exclusively for inside zone runs.

This is combined with an outside-zone run for the first time. Kittle pulls No. 23 away in man coverage to remove a defender from the play, but No 53 isn’t fooled and ends in a minimal gain. It usually beats man coverage, but Houston sniffs it out. Still, the deception is still there, and you can bet there will be more to come.

First 3rd down of the game: First-time play call/concept

The three-man route concept is usually on the right side of the formation. It has two comebacks on the right side and pairs a return and search route on the left. Having Kittle isolated on the search route is the goal in two high safety looks, but the Texans fall into zone coverage and are able to bracket it. This concept works better against single high with the seam and return routes that push the #2 defender in a high/low. This was the first time the 49ers called this play in 2021.

Clip 3: 21 personnel, OZ version

Kittle slides to the backside defensive end/C Gap defender. Kyle Jusczcyk can lead the way for Mitchell through the gap. #23 is wiped from the play chasing Kittle and becomes a wasted defender. Trent Williams has an easy reach with Kittle lined up next to him. The hole is sealed off—very nice gain.

These plays may not have led to huge splash plays, but the wrinkles will continue to be added to this offense that features Lance as a running threat. Kyle Shanahan is growing as his young QB will, and I can assure you there is more innovation on the way!