Kyle Shanahan Offensive Philosophy (Guide)

Kyle Shanahan’s offensive schemes are often described as an intricate symphony, meticulously composing power runs, play-action trickery, and explosive passing plays into a harmonious melody that leaves defenses scrambling.

Let’s break down the key instruments in this offensive orchestra:

The Groundwork: A Foundation of Power Running

  • Zone Run Maestro: Shanahan’s offense is built on the West Coast Zone Run scheme, characterized by lateral blocking and angled cuts by the running back. This creates confusion for defenders and opens up cutback lanes for big gains.
  • Offensive Line Alchemy: Shanahan prioritizes physical, athletic offensive linemen who can move laterally and block in space. This allows them to execute zone blocking effectively and create running lanes for the backs.

Deception is Key: Play-Action Magic

  • Master of the Play Fake: Shanahan’s play-action game is legendary. He uses convincing run fakes to draw linebackers and safeties towards the line of scrimmage, leaving space open for receivers in the passing game.
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy: A favorite play-action concept is the “Yankee,” where a deep go route by the X receiver pulls the cornerback and safety over the top, creating a crossing route underneath for a big gain.
    Image of Shanahan's Yankee concept

3. Exploiting the Open Field: Explosive Passing Game

  • Attacking All Levels: Shanahan’s passing game utilizes high-low concepts, attacking both underneath and deep zones. This forces defenders to make difficult choices and can lead to big plays if they bite on the wrong fake.
    Image of Shanahan's highlow passing concept
  • Multidimensional Weapons: Shanahan loves versatile players who can line up in multiple positions and threaten various routes. This keeps the defense guessing and creates mismatches that can be exploited for big plays.


Of course, no symphony is complete without a skilled conductor.

Shanahan’s aggressive playcalling keeps the defense on its toes, and his ability to adapt to in-game situations is crucial.

He’s not afraid to take risks and go for the jugular when the opportunity arises.

Multidimensional Players

A crucial ingredient is his preference for multidimensional players: athletes who can excel in multiple roles and functions within the offense.

Multidimensional players are essentially chess pieces with hidden moves.

They keep the defense guessing, forcing them to respect all their potential actions until the play unfolds.

This constant pressure and uncertainty disrupt defensive communication and timing, opening windows for quick strikes and big plays.

Tendency Training

  • Multidimensional players present multiple threats from a single alignment. This makes it harder for defenses to key in on specific roles or actions. For example, a wide receiver who can block, run jet sweeps, and line up in the backfield creates confusion about their primary assignment.
  • Shanahan uses this ambiguity to bait the defense into reacting to a specific “look”. He might show a run formation with the multidimensional player lined up as a blocker, expecting the defense to stack the box.
  • This defensive commitment leaves openings elsewhere on the field, which…

BOOM! Exploiting the Tendency

  • Snap! That multidimensional player, instead of blocking, suddenly lines up in the slot or runs a wheel route behind the vacated defense. Boom! Big play.
  • By training the defense to react to a specific “look” with the multidimensional player in a certain role, Shanahan opens up opportunities for that same player to exploit the created space in another, unexpected way.

Examples of Shanahan’s Multidimensional Weapons

  • Deebo Samuel: Can line up as a receiver, running back, or even wildcat quarterback, threatening runs, screens, and deep passes.
  • George Kittle: Not just a blocking tight end, but also a dangerous receiving threat and even a blocker in the run game.
  • Brandon Aiyuk: Can line up inside or outside, run jet sweeps, and even take handoffs out of the backfield.

The Takeaway

Multidimensional players are more than just versatile; they’re active agents in Shanahan’s exploitative chess game.

They’re the pawns that probe for weaknesses, the rooks that shift between offense and defense, and the knights that jump unexpected lines, all working together to keep the defense scrambling and the scoreboard ticking.

In essence, they’re the perfect pawns in Shanahan’s quest for offensive mayhem.


Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system is a complex and dynamic beast, blending power running with deceptive play-action and explosive passing.

By utilizing a strong running game, mastering the art of play-action, and deploying multidimensional weapons, Shanahan keeps defenses guessing and puts his offense in a position to score points in bunches.

So next time you witness the San Francisco 49ers lighting up the scoreboard, remember the conductor behind the orchestra, Kyle Shanahan, meticulously composing his offensive masterpiece.

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