Niners show balance in shotgun formation

The shotgun formation . . . it’s not just for third downs anymore.


When the 49ers line up in the shotgun Sunday against the Packers, it is no longer a sure sign a pass play is forthcoming.


The 49ers have done something the past two games that they have never previously done. They have started running the ball out of the shotgun formation. In their 10-6 victory over the Bears, the 49ers lined up in the shotgun 23 times. They called 13 pass plays and 10 runs.


Passes: Alex Smith completed 9 of 11 passes for 71 yards. He was also sacked once, and scrambled once for 2 yards.


Runs: Frank Gore ran 10 times for 73 yards, and Michael Robinson had a 4-yard run.


“Traditionally thinking, when you line up in the shotgun, it is predominantly pass,” Smith said, “so to be able to run the ball out of the shotgun at least allows us to stay balanced.”


When teams line up in the shotgun, it limits the kind of run plays that can be called. The runs are mostly slow-developing runs, such as draws or counters, because the running back can’t begin moving toward the line of scrimmage at the snap like on a conventional power run.


“The kinds of runs that you are running, most of the time, are not direct runs because you don’t have a lead blocker,” Raye said.


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The 49ers’ willingness to run the ball from the shotgun is not a change in the offense, Raye said. But it is a change in emphasis.


QBs coach Mike Johnson took a year off from coaching last season. During that time, he visited with several college programs. He went to Illinois because he felt the Big Ten program does the best job of running the ball from the spread formation. Johnson shared that knowledge with Raye during the months when the 49ers began installing their offense.


“We discussed it in the offseason,” Raye said. “I think what you need to understand is what we’ve done has always been a part of what we do. We didn’t invent the runs we ran out of the shotgun. We have had, and been practicing, our third down, our quarterback-not-under-the-center offense and runs since March. So, it wasn’t something where, all of the sudden three weeks ago, because everyone thought we should be in the spread, that we went and looked at someone running the shotgun and came up with plays. It is a part of the offense that we have.”


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Everybody this week has talked about the whole Alex Smith-Aaron Rodgers draft debate of 2005. But that was not an either/or situation. Twenty-two other teams passed on Rodgers from the time the 49ers selected Smith and the Packers went on the clock.


But there was a closer connection between the teams with the 2006 and 2009 drafts.


Green Bay had the No. 5 pick in ’06. It was a foregone conclusion Vernon Davis and A.J. Hawk were going to be picked fifth and sixth. The only question was in which order. The Packers had the fifth selection and they took A.J. Hawk.


Hawk, an inside linebacker, has been a good player. But he has not provided the kind of impact a team would want from a No. 5 overall pick. It’s not uncommon for teams to find a third-round pick who gives a team what Hawk has given the Packers.


Meanwhile, I was inundated with emails from 49ers fans the previous three seasons asking whether Davis was a bust. Davis is finally getting the ball thrown his way, and he’s compiling Pro Bowl-type credentials. (Davis is going to have a difficult time getting that recognition with Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten in the NFC.)


This year, the Packers had the No. 9 pick. At that point, Michael Crabtree was the No. 1 player on the 49ers’ wish list. If the Packers had taken Crabtree, the 49ers would have selected tackle Michael Oher.


Instead, both teams got the player they wanted. The Packers selected defensive tackle B.J. Raji, and the 49ers got Crabtree.


Raji has played in seven games, and he has recorded 12 tackles. Crabtree has played in four games after a 71-day contract stalemate, and has 18 receptions for 215 yards. Of course, it’s way too early to say which team has gotten the better of that deal.


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