Kyle Shanahan coached very well against the Rams last Thursday. That game was his best coaching performance of the season. The 49ers could have won had the players committed fewer mistakes.
But Shanahan partly was responsible for those mistakes. As well as he coached, he could have coached even better had he simplified his plays. I’ll explain.
Against the Rams, the 49ers offense used pre-snap movement (players running around and changing alignment before the play starts) on 49-of-74 plays. On those 49 plays, the offense allowed three sacks, committed four penalties and averaged only 4.7 yards per play. The 25 times the offense did not use pre-snap movement, it allowed just one sack, committed only one penalty and averaged a whopping eight yards per play. Huge difference.
A few weeks ago, I asked Shanahan what he hopes to achieve with all this shifting and motioning. “Lots of things – to get leverage in the pass game, to change fronts, whether you’re going to three-technique shade, to give you certain indicators. There’s hundreds of different things and something we do almost week in and week out.”
That’s all true. There are many benefits to moving players before the snap. But there are benefits to not moving, too.
When the offense is static, so is the defense. The offensive players get a clear picture of where every defensive player is standing before the play begins.
When the offense shifts, so does the defense does. The picture changes. It becomes less defined. The quarterback has to pay attention to where each defensive players goes, and offensive linemen have to figure out their new blocking assignments while listening to the snap count. Sometimes movement confuses the offense more than opposing defense.
That’s what happened Thursday night. I’ll give you two examples.
Example No. 1: 7:16 left in the second quarter.
Rams defensive end Morgan Fox lines up across from left tackle Joe Staley.
Fox moves to his left as tight end Garrett Celek shifts to the right side of the 49ers formation.
When center Daniel Kilgore snaps the ball, outside linebacker Connor Barwin runs from the left side of the Rams defense to the right, and Fox positions himself between Staley and left guard Laken Tomlinson.
When Brian Hoyer drops back, Tomlinson slides to his right because he thinks Staley is blocking Fox. But Staley doesn’t block Fox because he has to slide to the left and block Barwin. Carlos Hyde blocks no one. Total confusion. Fox gets a free shot on Hoyer.
Example No. 2: 0:36 left in the third quarter.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald lines up between right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Trent Brown.
When running back Raheem Mostert motions out of the backfield, Donald moves to his left.
When Kilgore snaps the ball, Donald is across from Brown.
Brown stares at Donald as Hoyer drops back.
Both Brown and Fusco block Donald. No one blocks Barwin.
Brown finally realizes he should block Barwin, but it’s too late.
Barwin sacks Hoyer.
Shanahan needs to make things easier for his players. Most of them haven’t played for him before. They’re still learning his offense. If his scheme is a foreign language, they’re taking the introductory course, and Shanahan is giving them advanced placement tests.
Until they master the scheme, Shanahan should simplify it. He should use less pre-snap movement. Start with 20 shifts or motions per game and work up from there.