Feb 1, 2020 - Sports

How the 49ers offense deploys its zone-running scheme

Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Kyle Shanahan uses the same zone-running scheme that his father, Mike, used to lead the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowls in the late 1990s.

Zone blocking, explained: Offensive linemen block a space instead of a person. This requires mobility (hence why San Francisco has the NFL's lightest O-line) and running backs who can get through holes quickly, rather than dance in the backfield à la Le'Veon Bell.

  • "For a lot of players, that approach requires unlearning years of what they've been taught," writes The Ringer's Danny Heifetz. "If less-heralded running backs pick up the system, they can earn the job — even if they've previously been cut six times." (See: Raheem Mostert.)

What they're saying: Future Hall of Fame LT Joe Thomas said Shanahan's scheme was his favorite offense he ever played in.

"It was like a computer program where everything was dichotomous; it was either a zero or a one and you knew exactly what you had to do on every single play and why."

On defense... The Chiefs have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. Their best bet at disrupting San Francisco's attack is 311 pound DT Chris Jones, who will try to wreak havoc on the interior against an O-line built for speed not brawn.

The bottom line: The marquee matchup — Mahomes vs. the 49ers — may not end up being the decisive one, as the action on the other side of the ball reflects a bigger point of differentiation between the two teams.

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