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.