I don't see a winless football team when I watch the San Francisco 49ers on film.
This squad has played in some tightly fought games and just come out on the wrong end of them. They've got a mix of youth to go along with seasoned veterans who have been in the league for a long time. And they're led by head coach Kyle Shanahan, one of the most proven offensive minds in the NFL. I've had the pleasure of being able to study Shanahan for a long time and his scheme is fun to watch.
First and foremost, like his dad Mike, Kyle Shanahan wants to get the run game going, and the Outside Zone Stretch is the staple. So much of the passing game is based on being able to run the football because that makes his play-action game even more effective. When I think back to the work he did in Washington during Robert Griffin III's rookie season, he did a great job of establishing the rushing attack with another rookie in Alfred Morris. This forced teams to play more single-high looks (to move a safety down into the box against the run). Against single-safety looks, he ran a slew of concepts that beat those coverages. The best one in the toolbox was the Post-Cross. The Post-Cross is still a big part of what Shanahan does in San Francisco, and it led to two big completions last week against Dallas.
The Post-Cross is a two-man route concept, which consists of a deep post route from one side and an intermediate crossing route from the other. They often run it with max protection and run-action, giving the quarterback plenty of time to throw the football while also eating up the eyes of the linebackers.
If there's no safety in the middle of the field, this post route should go for a big play. Against a single-high safety in the middle of the field, the quarterback has a simple "high-low" read. If the safety jumps the crosser, hit the post over the top. If he stays back against the post, the quarterback should be able to hit the crosser. Against man coverage, the receiver on the crossing route has to win one-on-one to the inside and run away from his defender. Against zone coverage, the offense is hoping that the play-action fake helps create space in the intermediate area of the field for the quarterback to deliver the football. It's a simple enough concept to draw up, and it's been extremely effective for Shanahan throughout his career.
Shot 1 - Kyle Shanahan & #49ers are going to try and attack #Eagles with a variety of pass concepts. A staple in his scheme? The Post-Cross pic.twitter.com/agUEzSllot — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 26, 2017
Shot 2 - Shanahan has used the concept EVERYWHERE he's been. (#Falcons #Browns #Redskins #Texans). MOF open or FS bites cross? Go to Post! pic.twitter.com/11z1hR1j58 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 26, 2017
In the first clip, San Francisco runs the Post-Cross and with the safeties at such a shallow depth pre-snap. Quarterback Brian Hoyer knows he's going to go to the post. He unleashes this pass off play-action for a big play down the field.
In the second shot, there are examples of Shanahan throughout his career as an offensive playcaller, a career that started with Houston in 2008. He stayed there until 2010 when he left to join the Washington Redskins. From there, he spent one season in Cleveland with the Browns before getting hired in Atlanta, where he coordinated an offense that went to the Super Bowl a year ago and averaged over 7 yards per play during the season! The Post-Cross has been an effective vertical shot play for Shanahan throughout his career. More often than not, this play doesn't go to the post. The crosser is what generates most of the production in this concept.
Shot 3 - More often than not, however, the crossing route gets the ball in the Post-Cross concept. Coverage is lifted, LBs sucked in by PA pic.twitter.com/CqvwtIamHz — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 26, 2017
Shot 4 - Again, success with the play everywhere he's been. #Eagles LBs have to be ready to 'hunt up' crossers in underneath zone coverage! pic.twitter.com/KWCcAm0rWz — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 26, 2017
Here are a bunch of examples of Shanahan's teams hitting the crossing route over the middle of the field. The play-action element in the backfield sucks the linebackers up to the line of scrimmage, and the vertical route downfield blows the top off the secondary. That creates nothing but space in the middle of the field for a receiver to run through. If the Eagles are in zone coverage, it will be imperative for the linebackers to not only get to their landmarks underneath but to also turn and find that crossing route to take away the throw for rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard. They did it on multiple occasions against Matt Ryan last year, and they will need to do the same this Sunday.
The Post-Cross is a very effective concept off of play-action, as you can see, but that's not the only pass play Shanahan runs off of their effective run game. Tight ends are a big part of the 49ers' air attack. Rookie George Kittle, a personal favorite of mine coming out of Iowa this past spring, has seen an uptick in targets in the last couple of weeks. I expect him to see the ball early and often this weekend. Don't be surprised if one of his targets comes on a "throwback" play off of play-action.
Shot 5 - Play @BenFennell_NFL was waiting to see #49ers run, and they tried it on Sunday. #Eagles must be ready for the TE Throwback pic.twitter.com/c2fIwKk6dg — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 26, 2017
Shot 6 - Another play Shanahan has run everywhere. Shots from #Falcons #Browns #Redskins here. Boot-action away and sneak TE out back door! pic.twitter.com/6FxvKHWgvO — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 26, 2017
The 49ers tried to run this play last week against Dallas, but the tight end was taken away. At some point, they will hit on it because it's a play that has worked for Shanahan at every stop throughout his career. It starts with a hard run fake to one side, but the quarterback pulls the ball and boots the opposite way. This is called a Naked pass play, where the quarterback is left bare and vulnerable for the defense. With the quarterback rolling away from the run-action, the defense gets its attention back that way ... but at its detriment. The quarterback turns and hits the tight end, who pretends to block for the run and then releases down the sideline. The Eagles have to be ready for this concept.
Shot 7 - The 3-level stretch is staple for Shanahan. Leveled-read for QB, intermediate receiver gets it most often. Look out for Kittle here pic.twitter.com/fIYMUCqRXt — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 26, 2017
Shot 8 - TEs have been a constant threat in Shanahan passing game, and the 3-level stretch is one of the main sources of that production pic.twitter.com/InNf4qLoZX — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 26, 2017
The other pass play that typically gets the tight ends involved in the passing attack is a concept that Eagles fans should be familiar with by now, the three-level stretch. The Eagles just ran this concept against the Redskins for Mack Hollins' 64-yard touchdown. Sometimes the quarterback will read from deep to short on this play ("touchdown to checkdown"), but others are focused primarily on that intermediate route. With the short and vertical routes expanding the coverage and creating a gap in the middle of the field, the intermediate route should open up pretty consistently. The Eagles can expect to see the three-level stretch on Sunday.
Those were examples of the tight ends getting involved in the passing game, but the running backs are a consistent factor for Shanahan through the air as well. Last year in Atlanta, he turned Tevin Coleman into a household name because of his versatility in the passing game. In Washington, he used Roy Helu Jr. is a matchup weapon out of the backfield. Steve Slaton in Houston had a productive career as a receiver for Shanahan as well. Young veteran Carlos Hyde is on pace to catch more balls this year than he has in his entire career, and rookie Matt Breida is being used often in the passing game as well. Here's how Shanahan gets the backs involved.
Shot 9 - I fully expect #49ers RBs to be targeted in the pass game this week vs #Eagles. Matt Breida / Carlos Hyde a big part of air attack. pic.twitter.com/zhTrDg2D0g — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 26, 2017
Shot 10 - These RB jailbreak screens are a big part of Shanahan's scheme. Get ball carriers out in space with room to work/create YAC #49ers pic.twitter.com/4Qb1Upk2kj — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 26, 2017
There's obviously the screen game. Whether it's your basic three-count screens out of the backfield or jailbreaks and bubbles from out wide or in the slot, Shanahan is going to incorporate the running backs into the screen game.
Shot 12 - Breida has the speed to be a factor on Wheel routes from the backfield. Watch out for him running down the short side of the field pic.twitter.com/45xlqmw35M — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 26, 2017
Shot 13 - One of @BenFennell_NFL's favorite players and favorite plays. Shanahan likes the lead back releasing down seam. Saw it often! pic.twitter.com/P3tsiQKhpe — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 26, 2017
There are also various routes out of the backfield. In the first example is the classic Texas route or angle route, which the 49ers have already run in San Francisco with success. Look out for the wheel routes from those split back sets. San Francisco loves to get the running back open down the short side of the field from those looks. The 49ers signed fullback Kyle Juszczyk this offseason and he's missed time due to injury, but when healthy he's capable of being very effective in that scheme as well.
With Jordan Hicks out, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the 49ers try to test Nigel Bradham, Mychal Kendricks, and the rest of the Eagles' linebackers in coverage, just to see how they react. If the Eagles decide to play more out of the dime subpackage, like they did last week against Washington, expect San Francisco to try and run the ball from their three-receiver sets.
Shot 14 - Expect to see a lot of 11 personnel run game from #49ers if #Eagles do decide to play Dime. Spreads defense out. Hyde runs hard! pic.twitter.com/Yoga64M4yp — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 26, 2017
Hyde is a big, physical runner. He's comfortable working between the tackles and he runs hard. I thought he had a strong outing last week against Dallas. He just couldn't get going because of the flow of the game. Expect to see San Francisco run the football if the Eagles decide to play dime against 11 personnel. It will be up to the Eagles' defensive backs to be a factor in the run game.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.