Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports


49ers’ 2018 To Do List: Use the Tight End More in the Pass Attack

Bret Rumbeck
Jun 15, 2018 at 1:32 PM


The evolution of football has always been intriguing. What's old, like a veer run, can get a fresh coat of polish and a place in 21st-century professional football playbook.

The elements and scheme of a play may remain the same, but players and positions are always in a state of metamorphosis. The days of a slow quarterback with little ability to rush have died a slow death. The fullback is almost non-existent in most offenses, and a shorter slot receiver running slant and choice routes is all the rage.

During the 1980s and 1990s, tight ends were lighter tackles who could catch. Today, tight ends have taken on a new look, and a new role as offenses spread out and push the ball vertically with higher frequency.

NFL head coaches and offensive coordinators seek a Y-receiver with DNA spliced with the size of a power forward, the leaping ability of a high jumper and the hands of an all-world wide receiver. Offensive coordinators want to challenge the middle of the field with a tight end who can out-jump a safety for a 50-50 ball, but who can deliver punishment to linebackers and consistently block an inside or outside zone run.

The San Francisco 49ers enter the 2018 season with two high-caliber tight ends ready to play a crucial role in Kyle Shanahan's offense.

Second-year player George Kittle, who finished with 43 catches last season, is competing with seven-year veteran Garrett Celek for the starting role. Ultimately, it doesn't matter who starts at Y-receiver; I am confident both men will see an equal amount of playing time but am unsure if Shanahan increases the role of his tight end in this year's offensive scheme.

Statistics show that Shanahan has not targeted his tight ends often in his passing attack.

Since becoming an offensive coordinator in 2008, Shanahan calls an average of 566.4 pass attempts per season, with approximately 110.9 throws directed at the tight end. Y-receivers in Shanahan's system average 73.3 catches per season and are involved in 19.6-percent of the passing game.

High or low deviations from the average, however, do not correlate to an increase in wins or overall success.

While calling the offense for Washington in 2010, Shanahan targeted his tight ends on 196 passes or about 32-percent of pass attempts. Tight end Chris Cooley had 77 catches, the most that any tight end tallied in a Shanahan offense. The attempts and catches were both high watermarks for Shanahan, but the team finished 6-10.

In 2016, when Shanahan's play calling led the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl, tight end Jacob Tamme had 22 catches on 31 targets. Atlanta's tight ends only caught 57 passes on 82 targets in 2016.

There could be a multitude of reasons why Matt Ryan threw 82 times on 534 attempts to his Y-receiver or if Shanahan purposely directed a mere 15.2-percent of his offense to Tamme and the other tight ends. No matter; the strategy worked, as Falcon wide receivers saw 60-percent of Ryan's throws and the team nearly won the Super Bowl.

Last year, the 49er quarterbacks targeted tight ends 99 times on 607 pass attempts, or 16.3-percent of the time.

Indeed, the 49ers suffered a series of offensive woes. Both Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard struggled behind center, the offensive line was a patchwork quilt, and the team had an inconsistent run game.

There's nothing wrong with Shanahan using his wide receivers more than his tight ends. He's found mixed success in the NFL as his offense evolves and he discovers the right player to succeed in a specific role.

The 2018 NFL season marks the first for which Shanahan has two healthy, motivated and skilled tight ends, in addition to a backfield that can take a short swing pass upfield for a big play.

I have no doubt that Kittle and Celek want to be involved in more than 16-percent of the passing attack. This season, Shanahan needs to call more plays that have the Y-receiver as the first or second read in a progression. Throwing more to the Y forces the secondary to remain honest in its coverage on intermediate and longer routes.

Here are three plays that Shanahan can call to get the ball to his tight end.

Red Right Slot 26 Y-Shake


Source: 1985 San Francisco 49ers Playbook



This is a play directly from Bill Walsh's 1985 playbook.

Jimmy Garoppolo lines up under center, with split backs. His Z and X receivers are to his left; the Z is running an under route, while the X releases inside and then runs a corner route. The Y-receiver, lined up next to the right tackle, runs a five-yard out route and turns upfield after a pump fake.

Garoppolo and his Y-receiver need to be in sync with one another and read the defense correctly, but if the linebacker sticks with the Z and Garoppolo has a blitz-free pocket, it allows a one-on-one matchup between the tight end and high safety.

Flex Right 200 Jet Dragon Lion


2008 Oakland Raiders Playbook


The 'Dragon-Lion' combination has been a staple play in the West Coast Offense for decades.

It's a slant-flat combination with the X and Z receivers running double slants (Lion) on the left of the formation. On the right side, the F receiver runs a slant, while the Y bolts from the line of scrimmage and runs immediately to the right flat (Dragon).
This play is effective against single-high safety, as the quarterback will look immediately to the slant-flat combination to complete the pass.

Brown Right Fox 2 X-Y Hook


1997 Green Bay Packers Playbook


Hook routes are almost unbeatable, especially when throwing to a big target. In this play, Garoppolo is under center. His fullback is directly behind him, with the halfback lined up behind left tackle.

The X-receiver, lined up on the left, runs a 10-12 yard hook route. The Z-receiver, lined up to the right, runs seven steps and slants toward the safety. The Y-receiver runs a 10-12 yard hook route, and he's the primary read in the progression.

This is an ideal play to run against a Cover 2 defense. As the Z-receiver runs the route stem, the defensive back should let him go and allow the safety to cover the route. This opens up the field for the Y-receiver's hook route. If the safety drives on the hook route, the Z-receiver is wide open to walk into the end zone.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


2 Comments

  • Bosch
    What I'm pretty sure Shanahan has his own plays, that aren't from 1985?? And Umm. Why do amateurs think that the coach tells a QB where to throw the ball on a given down? It's impossible to know how many times the TE is the primary read, and doesn't get the ball. And with all the problems the 49ers had in pass pro, you cant argue with keeping the TE in to block. Kittle and Celek are not exactly Gronk and Hernandez. In fact your beloved Harbaugh had 2 talented TEs and woefully mismanaged that entire offense and then kept the wrong TE.
    Jun 19, 2018 at 10:47 PM
    0
  • Guru
    Shanahan did utilize Kittle all over the formation, tried him in the slot matched up against safeties. Fact is dude had a spell where he was dropping the ball every game. Also, calling Celek a big talented Tight End is really too much. Study talented TEs from other teams throughout the league's history. Celek is below average, and is lucky to be in the league.
    Jun 19, 2018 at 10:40 PM
    0

Facebook Comments



More San Francisco 49ers News



49ers' Kyle Juszczyk defends Kyle Shanahan's use of Trey Lance

By David Bonilla
Sep 22

One of the biggest debates since the San Francisco 49ers' Week 2 win over the Seattle Seahawks has been head coach Kyle Shanahan's use of Trey Lance. Many feel that the excessive use of quarterback runs unnecessarily put the second-year player in harm's way. Lance ended up suffering a season-ending ankle injury in the first quarter. During an interview on 95.7 The Game, fullback Kyle Juszczyk defended his head coach. He doesn't understand the criticism directed in Shanahan's direction, and the growing lack of trust from a very vocal segment of the fanbase. "I think he deserves that trust, and he's built that reputation to have that trust," Juszczyk told Damon Bruce and Ray Ratto. "He's had so much success in the decisions that he has made here that I think he's



49ers work out several quarterbacks, receivers, and tight ends ahead of Broncos game

By David Bonilla
Sep 20

On Monday, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan admitted that the team would look to work out running backs after losing rookie Ty Davis-Price to a high-ankle sprain for several weeks. The team will also seek another quarterback, with Trey Lance's season over due to a broken ankle. Those weren't the only injuries from Sunday's 27-7 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Tight end Tyler Kroft suffered an MCL sprain and will also miss several weeks. That prompted the 49ers to work out former North Carolina tight end Garrett Walston, who signed with San Francisco as an



49ers Mailbag: Can Kyle Shanahan develop QBs? Was Mike McDaniel the secret sauce for the offense? What are the dimensions of an NFL end zone? (Asking for a friend)

By Marc Adams
Sep 28

The San Francisco 49ers have fallen to 1-2, with the Los Angeles Rams coming to Levi's Stadium on Monday night. It's hard to predict what will happen in that game. You would think the Rams will destroy the struggling 49ers. But last year, we thought the same thing. Instead, the 49ers blew out the Rams and turned their season around. Can history repeat itself? The 49ers' defense is as good as ever. The offense, on the other hand, has not been good. The offensive production has been reminiscent of the days when the 49ers hired defensive-minded head coaches like Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. This defense is Super Bowl-caliber. Right now, this offense isn't even NFL-caliber. The 49ers can't blame anyone but themselves for their 1-2 start. They are much better than



49ers Notebook: Talanoa Hufanga's improvement; Brian Griese's impact; DJ Jones talks 49ers; Why is Jimmy G so loud?

By Kirk Larrabee
Sep 22

Today marked another day of media rounds for the San Francisco 49ers, with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, and run game coordinator/offensive line coach Chris Foerster being among those to speak to reporters in Santa Clara. Among the topics discussed in those media sessions were the improvement of safety Talanoa Hufanga, the impact of new quarterbacks coach Brian Griese, and where Jimmy Garoppolo gets his vocal power from. There were also some quotes of note to come from outside 49ers facilities, including some thoughts from former 49ers defensive tackle D.J. Jones as he gets set to face his former team when the 49ers face the Broncos in Denver on Sunday night. Here's a rundown of those topics and more in this version of 49ers


Featured

More by Bret Rumbeck

More Articles

Share 49ersWebzone