SANTA CLARA — One thing in particular makes 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan special.
He creates “explosive” plays: successful runs that gain at least 12 yards or passes that gain at least 16 yards. He draws these up as well as anyone in the NFL.
Last season, 13% of the 49ers’ offensive plays were explosive — the second-highest rate in the NFL. Only the Kansas City Chiefs recorded a higher rate of explosive plays (14%), and they had the MVP in quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Shanahan had backup quarterbacks most of the season after starter Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3.
Shanahan’s mastery of the big play is one reason some football analysts predict the 49ers will make the playoffs after winning just four games in 2018. But big plays alone probably won’t determine how successful the 49ers will be next season.
The most important stat for Shanahan is his red-zone touchdown percentage. Always has been. Always will be. Since he became an NFL offensive coordinator in 2008, his offenses have ranked in the top 16 out of 32 teams in red-zone scoring percentage just three times — in 2009 with the Houston Texans, in 2012 with the Washington Redskins and in 2016 with the Atlanta Falcons. And those were the only seasons his teams had winning records.
Shanahan knows how to drive the ball down the field in an instant, but he still is learning how to finish the drive and put the ball in the end zone consistently.
The 49ers will go as far as Shanahan’s red-zone offense takes them. Here’s why it struggled in the past, and what he has done to improve it this offseason: