Kyle Shanahan: Zone read can work, if you have the right QB and he stays healthy

Getty Images

In 2012, when now-49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator in Washington, Robert Griffin III had one of the best rookie seasons a quarterback has ever had. That same year, Colin Kaepernick led San Francisco to the Super Bowl, and the two of them appeared to be ushering in a new era for the way the quarterback position would be played.

It hasn’t worked out that way, and Shanahan was asked yesterday if the zone read offense has been figured out.

“No,” Shanahan answered. “There isn’t anything to figure out. It’s a very sound scheme.”

So why don’t we see as much of that style of football as we saw in 2012? Shanahan said the issue is it’s hard to find a quarterback who can run that offense — and hard to keep that quarterback healthy if you’re using him as both a runner and a passer.

“Is your quarterback good enough at running with the football to make them commit to stop it? And once they do, is he good enough to make the passes that he has to that they just opened up?” Shanahan said. “If he is, that’s a huge issue. It’s tough to find that guy. And if you don’t protect him right and you don’t do the right stuff it is tough to stay healthy.”

Shanahan said that in 2012, Washington’s offense was incredibly hard to stop, and Shanahan said it wasn’t so much the zone read as the threat of the zone read.

“People talk about that 2012 year but our running game was 70 percent outside zone. It was one-third zone read, but everyone was scared of it, so they played for it every play, which is why Alfred Morris [was second in the league in rushing],” Shanahan said. “It was because of the threat of zone read that allows you to do a ton of other stuff. It’s not your base offense but if you’re in pistol or shotgun you can run it every time.”

Shanahan still believes the threat of a quarterback running can keep defenses off balance.

“Defenses have been playing 11 against 10 for so long and now all of a sudden you have to play 11 against 11 and if you’re not it changes everything you do,” Shanahan said. “It’s not that they’ve caught up, you just need the right people, the right commitment, you have to stay healthy and you have to have a whole package together.”

Finding that whole package is not easy, but a team that finds the package could still win with that offense.

38 responses to “Kyle Shanahan: Zone read can work, if you have the right QB and he stays healthy

  1. The key part of that is the ‘read’. Thats where Kaepernick struggled. As far as the run part he was extremely good and often caught teams off guard with how well he did that. His throw was not the greatest but goid enough. It was in the making of the throw or run choice where he struggled and film of him got compiled opposing coaches learned to target that issue by throwing looks that mislead him. The worst example wasnt his low score game, it was the one where when Belichick was playing games with him and how turned around he hot.

    RG3 also did not choose as well as he should have, his decision making was one of the biggest factors that got him hurt. Plus he was not as fadt or elusive as Kaepernick. (Kaepernick was a terrific runner, I sometimes wonder if had he been willing to try some receiver out of the backfield work if he might still be in the NFL)

    I hope he is not saying he might try this with Garrapolo. Garrapolo would get hurt doing that stuff and really has other things he us stronger at.

    My take on it is I agree With Shanahan that it could work, but I think you need a young Adrian Petersen or Jim Brown who can throw on top of the ability to make those decisions, especially when opposing coaches start baiting and switching looks to make it harder.

  2. You cannot win in the long-term with the zone-read scheme in the pros. Unlike college football where you have 4-5 substitute QBs sitting on the bench (plus a few other high school QBs converted to WRs, DBs, etc.), knocking out the starting NFL QB is devastating.

    First, your running QB is going to get hit. A lot. For a $20-$25 million investment, that’s not a great long-term strategy. Secnd, most backups aren’t Nick Foles with years of starting qb experience. Third, your backup QB would also need to be excellent in the zone-read, otherwise the whole offense needs to completely change. Teams don’t have the luxury of teaching two different schemes in case the starter gets hurt. Finding one good running QB is hard – having two on your team is nearly impossible.

  3. Russell Wilson is the only running QB that can avoid getting hit. Others, not so much..

  4. Hey Kyle, can you tell us to which system that DOESN’T apply?? You can also win the lotto with the right numbers. Who knew?

  5. I think the runner is just as important. When Dak and Zeke ran it two years ago it was very effective but when Zeke was out last year with a suspension defenses keyed on Dak and that threat went away. But Shanahan is right, if you do have the right pieces it is difficult to stop.

  6. The Eagles just won a Super Bowl with a variation of it and a backup QB running it. People who should know football should know this. Even more than the threat of the QB running is gasp, having good players. That allows you to run any scheme pretty much, and the Eagle offensive line is perhaps one of the top two or three in football and made their running game dangerous even with a guy as stiff as Foles running their offense.

  7. Alfred Morris played a bigger role in the 2012 success than he is given credit for. I saw a stat at one point where he broke almost twice as many tackles as any other RB in the league. I may be wrong on that, but either way, Morris ran extremely hard that year and was tough to bring down. Teams had to plan for that AND the threat of RG3.

  8. Unless the QB is built like Cam Newton or Tim Tebow, it won’t work for very long. Cam is trying to stay away from that style because of the abuse he takes. When QBs tuck and run, they are no longer seen as QBs by refs. They become RBs and flags will not be thrown for vicious hits… and rightfully so. If QBs want protection, stay in the pocket. If they want to shorten their careers, take off running.

  9. A QB can’t make the thread-the-needle type passes if he’s exhausted from running. The goal of an offense should be as much to keep your QB from havung to run as keeping him from being hit. How can you expect such a QB, especially one who is not a rookie, to organize a game winning drive in the 4th quarter if he’s been running on a third of the plays?

  10. If it’s “…hard to keep that quarterback healthy if you’re using him as both a runner and a passer,” – because, you know, that’s what the zone read is ALL ABOUT – then by definition it’s NOT “a very sound scheme.”

  11. The problem with Kaepernick was that he struggled making throws from the pocket. That is all, and that is everything for a QB.

    That being said, he was a lot of fun to watch for 1.5 seasons.

  12. Staying healthy over a long period of time and maintaining the same athletic ability has always been the problem of the mobile QB. Still not many great mobile QBs that have reached the Super Bowl podium compared to pocket passers. I don’t think it’s a talent thing, I think it’s related to longevity.

  13. You realize this kills the collusion narrative, right?

    They had a coach who believes in it, used it, and *still* didn’t want him. If he’s BSing and doesn’t believe it works, that explains why no one else wants him either.

  14. Assuming you have the perfect QB and running game to run this system, is it sustainable? For how long? Seems like your unicorn QB would have a short career getting drilled as a runner several times a game.

  15. endtimesparty says:
    June 14, 2018 at 10:51 am
    A QB can’t make the thread-the-needle type passes if he’s exhausted from running. The goal of an offense should be as much to keep your QB from havung to run as keeping him from being hit. How can you expect such a QB, especially one who is not a rookie, to organize a game winning drive in the 4th quarter if he’s been running on a third of the plays?

    ***

    I agree with this. The more a QB runs, the more his accuracy and stamina will suffer, which can be a huge issue in crunch time when perfect throws are needed.

  16. They have a loser owner who fired a HOF level coach. An overpaid unproven second round pick QB cast off by BB. And….a couple good dudes at coach and GM now…..lucky if they’re a .500 team moving forward. Any SB hopes they had sailed with Harbaugh. Only shot at this point would be if Eddy D. came back as owner. SAD.

  17. As someone stated, Russell Wilson is the only QB to come around in a while that seems to be able to run the zone read while protecting himself, but even he has taken some unnecessary big hits in recent season – because the zone read don’t work when you’re not a threat to run the ball.

  18. That would be the hope. Niners could have tagged him for ~$23-24M and then signed him if they liked what they saw, or tagged him again for another year if they didn’t come to a deal, or sign him for an even higher amount if clearly warranted after the first tag expired. Point is, they could have hedged their bet vs. risk being damaged long term if things went sideways during year one. It remains to be seen who really got fleeced, but at this point, it’s the niners.

  19. Groppy’s wins were against terrible teams where the niners needed like 20 FG’s to scrape by. The other wins were against teams that already clinched playing their scrubs. Nothing proven yet, until quality D’s see him and make adjustments ….can he adjust to those adjustments will tell. Groppy is not Cousins….and even if, a Cousins scenario is far less risky than being stuck with a bust being paid like a proven star. There’s no doubt.

  20. camsbiggestfan says:

    June 14, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    Cam Newton led his team to the Super Bowl running the zone read. If it wasn’t for team injuries we would have even more Super Bowls
    ———————
    Injuries from…….RUNNING. lol

  21. ayokel21 says:
    June 14, 2018 at 9:25 am
    neatpete1 – I remember Kaep tearing up the Patriots on the road.
    Kaepernick threw four TD’s that game.

    ——————-
    Actually I recall it the same way NeatPete1 does but with a but more detail. Patriots won that 30-17 and it was Brady that had 4 tds not Kaepernick. Kaepernick only had 2 tds, one the reciever broke free for a good run after the catch, the other was in garbage time. Kaep also matched his 2 tds with 2 fumbles. He was 16-30 on passes with a qbr of only 27.3. He ran 4 times for 32 yards (broke one long one, the other three not so much) but got stopped behind the line of scrimmage 5 more times for sacks because Belichick had him too confused to find receivers and he was making bad decisions to run into a defense that was ready for him. And thats what NeatPete is referring to when he says opposing coaches exploited Kaepernicks struggles to read defenses.

    I also agree with NP’s point that had Kaepernick been willing to try other positions that would have relied more on his speed and running ability he might still be playing. Those skills he did have at a high level.

    Ill add that Tebow was a similar case. Belichick wanted to convert him to do backfield receiving and TE work. IMHO Tebow made a mistake turning those down as his physical skills were perfect for those roles and I think he would have excelled.

  22. camsbiggestfan says:
    June 14, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    Cam Newton led his team to the Super Bowl running the zone read. If it wasn’t for team injuries we would have even more Super Bowls
    ———————
    If they wouldn’t be so aggressive going after fumbles there probably would have been fewer injuries.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!