Earlier in the week, I had a text exchange with two highly respected gentlemen. One asked a fair question:

"How much will Shanahan adjust for Sunday? What can he modify?"

In three seasons of crunching film, I've watched head coach Kyle Shanahan stick with staple plays and make slight adjustments to others. He's also called concepts and route combinations that look brand new to me.

A reporter asked Shanahan about installing a game plan and putting it together during his press conference on January 24, 2020.

"No one ever really saves a play. There's not the magical playbook. It's just tying your guys together, going against whatever schemes, fronts, and coverages you're going against. I would be very surprised if anyone in the history going forward could ever come up with a new play. There's only five eligibles, and it's probably been done before. So, it's how you mix those five guys and how you set stuff up."

The reality is any play – a run, a pass, or a play-action – can be modified. A pre-snap motion, personnel adjustment, or even running a play from a rarely used formation can give an offense a the element of surprise and win a deafening roar from the crowd.

I fully expect Shanahan to come out with a balance of new looks and reliable plays. Here are a handful of plays he's adjusted, kept the same, and one he borrowed.

Adjusted Plays

Week 8: 3rd Quarter – 2nd and 4 at the SF 43 (9:26)

Even with the 49ers routing the Panthers, Shanahan wanted to leave no doubt that his squad would dominate the NFC. Following a touchdown run from Panthers' running back Christian McCaffrey, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo would lead an eight-play scoring drive that included an adjusted version of '364 Nebraska F Seam.'



Shanahan's twist on the play was lining up tight end George Kittle as the F-receiver and tight end Levine Toilolo as the Y-receiver. I don't think that's the chief reason for the play's success, but I am willing to bet it was a small thing that threw off Carolina's defense.

Further, the twin 'Nebraska' routes on either side of the formation were a new addition.

In an older version, the X and F receivers aligned five yards from the left tackle. The X ran the seam route, and the F ran a 'C.O. China', a route that directs the F to run a five-yard out, and then break back inside.



What helped Kittle gain 23-yards was safety Eric Reid's blown coverage. After Kittle covered the first five yards of his route, Reid turned to his right and let Kittle run free up the seam. Kittle had 12-yards of open turf in front of him.

Week 13: 1st Quarter – 3rd and 7 at the SF 29 (13:40)



'Scuba' is a play that goes back at least to Shanahan's time in Atlanta, if not further in his career.

The original diagram in my notebook uses a single back directly behind the quarterback or to his side if the offense is in a gun formation.

There is a bunch set to one side of the formation with an isolated receiver to the other. Often, Shanahan will fly a receiver, usually the Y, to the bunch formation.

'Jet' protection has remained constant.

The key with 'Scuba' is the route combination at the top of the screenshot. The outside receiver runs a 'Basic,' while the inside receiver runs a 'Spread' route. 'Spread' tells the receiver to run a hard slant inside and cut back to the sideline at four-to-six yards.



The above version of 'Scuba' was the first time I noticed motion that placed Kittle into a 'Gold' formation in the backfield. Additionally, Kittle's 'Rail' route and the crossing pattern from wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders gave a new look to 'Scuba.'

The play worked. Garoppolo hit wide receiver Kendrick Bourne on the 'Spread' route, who turned it upfield and gained 30 yards.

Remained the Same

Week 2: 3rd Quarter – 1st and 10 at the SF 25 (15:00)



Shanahan called 'Dagger' often this season with tremendous success. He called it to open the second half against Cincinnati and rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel gained 39 yards.

My notes and diagrams indicate 'Dagger' called at least three times throughout 2019, with each play going to Samuel. He gained at least 80 yards on the dagger concept in 2019 during his rookie year.



'Dagger' is not a sophisticated concept. The inside receiver runs a 'deep thru' while the outside receiver runs a 'dover' route.

The 'deep thru' is the first read on the play and sets the tone for the play's success. The receiver must choose the angle at the near-high safety, roughly at 14 yards.

If there are two safeties, he takes a softer angle toward the middle. Against one safety, the receiver cuts sharply toward the post.

'Dagger' is an excellent Cover 2 beating play, especially with a solid fake from the running back to freeze the linebackers. Cover 2 is vulnerable to in-breaking routes, as the middle of the field is often left open. With 'Dagger,' both in-breaking routes place one safety in a situation to make the wrong decision.

Week 6: 1st Quarter – 2nd and 5 at the LA 42 (5:52)

Shanahan noted in his January 24 press conference that nobody saves plays. He should have clarified that response.

Nobody but Shanahan saves plays.

Early in the Week 6 match-up against the Los Angeles Rams, Shanahan called 'Dale Both Cop'.



'Dale Both Cop' has been a fundamental play on Shanahan's call sheet for years. I have it scattered throughout three seasons of notebooks, often with no variation.

The first reads for Garoppolo are the mirrored 'Cop' routes, which attack the middle of the field.

The second reads are the flat routes run by the F and Y receivers. Garoppolo's last option is an option route from his running back.



Both 'Cop' routes were covered, forcing Garoppolo to hit Breida on the option. Breida gained 17 yards.



Shanahan called for a '2 Scat' protection on the play, which told the offensive line that the running back had a free release into the field. Previous versions of 'Cop used Jet protection, but the core elements of the play remained the same.

A Borrowed Play

Week 1: 1st Quarter – 2nd and 9 at the TB 32 (13:08)



The 49ers' first pass play of the 2019 regular season was a 19-yard completion to tight end George Kittle.

'Fake 18' indicates to the running back and the offensive line to move right, while Garoppolo fakes a handoff and continues on a short bootleg left.

The mass movement right forced Tampa Bay's linebackers to follow, which created open space for Kittle in the left flat.

'Y Shallow Cross' is not a new idea.

Its origins are found in the 1994 San Francisco 49ers install playbook, written by then offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan.



The younger Shanahan took 'Drake 54 Z Speedo' and gave it a new name. Kyle might have called the play, but maybe Mike deserves credit for the concept.

All images courtesy of NFL.com.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
  • 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.