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How Kyle Shanahan’s Seven-Man Protections Work in the 49ers’ Offense

Bret Rumbeck
Jul 2, 2020 at 5:00 PM


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The seven-man pass protection in today's NFL seems a little foreign, considering how much the tight end position has evolved over the last 20 years. Today's hybrid tight end, a man built from DNA spliced from a sprinter, basketball player and professional wrestler, has an integral role in the passing attack.

A generation ago, San Francisco 49ers tight end Brent Jones finished his career averaging 36.3 receiving yards per game. Flash twenty-five years in the future and tight end George Kittle is averaging 65.4 yards per game over his first three seasons.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan's system is firmly rooted in the West Coast Offense, even mimicking some of Bill Walsh's old plays. But Jones never averaged more than 46.7 yards per game during his eleven years in professional football.

A seven-man pass protection will not get cast aside as a relic of smashmouth football; that is, not unless a defense chooses to throw its cleats on the field and hope for the best.

The 49ers will continue to use seven-man protections, but designating Kittle as a pass blocker is a waste of his talent. I expect to see rookie tight end Charlie Woerner out of the University of Georgia used as a blocking tight end, allowing Kittle to run routes as an 'F' or 'U' receiver.

Here is how the 49ers use seven-man protections, and what Woerner should expect to be doing this fall.

64-65/364-65 Protection


It should come as no shock that Shanahan borrowed his 60 series from his dad. It is not a complicated protection: The back and tight end block the same side, while the remaining linemen shift away from the call. It looks and feels a bit like Jet protection, but the tight end does not have a free release.

However, some nuances slightly alter the protection for the line. For example, if the Sam linebacker is on the line of scrimmage, the line executes a 'Lou/Ron' protection. It will block four men down and send two men to block the widest defenders. The two backs flow in the same direction, with the halfback keeping his eye on the weakside A-gap.

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


One of the few examples I have of 64-65 protection was from the Week 8 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Shanahan called for max protection, but Carolina only rushed four men. The weak pass rush allowed right tackle Daniel Brunskill to help tight end Levine Toilolo and let running back Raheem Mostert enter the play on an option route.


Sometimes, protections will have a '3' in front of the last two digits. Walsh noted this meant a three-step drop for the quarterback and for the line to block aggressively. It also means the play is faster, with receivers running double speed outs, rather than long patterns downfield. I assume Shanahan uses the '3' in his protections the same way Walsh did.

H2-H3/H200-H300 Protection


H2-H3 protection is another Shanahan borrowed from his dad but gave it a new name. The elder Shanahan used Fox 2/3 while in Denver, and it is nearly identical to his son's H2-H3 seven-man protections.

The protection looks like Jet with the offensive line sliding away from the call and allows a free release for the tight end. However, H2-H3 gives both backs blocking responsibility.

In the 20 series, the backs split to pick up defenders. Rather than split, H2-H3 instructs the backs to work together to pick up pesky defenders.

The fullback's responsibility is the outermost defender, and he can work a 'gap' call with the call side guard. The halfback keeps his eyes on the innermost defender from over the center. He also must be alert for a 'gap' call from the guard.

A 'gap' call is a trade between the halfback and the covered guard to the man side of protection. If the halfback's defender creeps to the line or precisely times the snap, the offensive guard takes that man attempting to shoot the A-gap, while the halfback then has responsibility for the defensive lineman.

Seven-man protections work and are a necessary part of the playbook. Shanahan does not call them often because he can get more out of his play-action or Jet series than he can with a straight seven-man front.

It will be interesting to see if Woerner is used more as a pass blocking tight end, especially in situations that demand a maximum protection.

All images courtesy of NFL.com.
  • 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.


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