Make no mistake, this is Kyle Shanahan’s offence
The high-powered offence of the Atlanta Falcons has gotten them to the Super Bowl. It has landed a head coaching job in San Francisco for offensive co-ordinator Kyle Shanahan. It could yield a league MVP award for quarterback Matt Ryan.
It all has worked not only because of the on-field brilliance of Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones, but also because of the offensive scheme taken to Atlanta by Shanahan. That system is a blend of the versions of the West Coast offence learned by Shanahan from some of his coaching mentors — and his own father, Mike — with significant wrinkles added by Shanahan.
“You see Gary’s offence in it,” former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said. “You see Mike’s offence in it. Every guy takes parts from the guys he has worked with. What you see is an offence that has been developed over time and adapted to Kyle’s personality and the personnel that he has.”
Mike Shanahan’s offences generally blended a traditional West Coast passing game — the quick-hitting, stretch-the-defencehorizontal ly approach popularized by the Bill Walshcoached 49ers during their glory days — with a running game utilizing zone blocking by the offensive line and “stretch” plays. That system produced two Super Bowl triumphs for the Denver Broncos.
Kubiak, a Mike Shanahan coaching protégé who was Kyle Shanahan’s boss in Houston before winning last season’s Super Bowl with the Broncos, was particularly enamoured with putting his quarterback on the move with rollouts and bootlegs.
When Mike Shanahan coached the Redskins and Kyle was the team’s offensive co-ordinator, they added college-style elements to their offence — the pistol formation and option-style running plays — for the rookie season of quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2012.
Yet both Shanahans say that Kyle’s current offence with the Falcons is meaningfully different from what Mike Shanahan-coached teams traditionally did.
“Outside zone in running game is the same as before except for wider landmarks,” Mike Shanahan said via text message. “QB keeps or bootlegs are the same as before except for more variations. Everything else is different: drop-back attack concepts, play-action concepts between the tackles, formation variations and personnel groupings within a game plan, audible system, third-down attack, red zone attack and two-minute offence.”
Kyle Shanahan echoed those sentiments this week in Houston.
“I think we’ve all grown from different places,” he said. “I think the one thing we all have in common is that the basis, the percentage of our runs are outside zone. And we do some [quarterback] bootlegs or keepers, whatever you want to call them, off of that. After that, that’s about it.
“When I got to Houston, it was my first time working for Kub. I had spent all the time with Jon Gruden [as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant] before that. So we saw offence totally different. We meshed a little bit first time together. When I went to Washington, that was my first time working with my dad. I thought we saw football similar. But we quickly realized after a few weeks that we thought differently. We grew together. He gave me a lot of leeway while I was there. It was fun to try a bunch of different things, having to even incorporate the zone read and stuff when we got Robert. But it’s always growing.”
The Falcons’ passing game is not your father’s — or, more precisely, Shanahan’s father’s — West Coast passing game.
“There’s a genesis to it,” Theismann said this week. “It has been morphed and expanded. People put their own personalities into it. The basic principles of the West Coast offence are that you’re going to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quickly and you’re going to focus on getting yards after the catch. You’re going to use
“Every (co-ordinator) takes parts from the guys he has worked with. What you see is an offence that has been developed over time and adapted to Kyle’s personality and the personnel that he has.” FORMER WASHINGTON REDSKINS QUARTERBACK JOE THEISMANN
screens. You’re going to get the ball into the hands of the running back and treat those throws almost like running plays.”
There is a vertical, down-thefield aspect to the Falcons’ offence focused on making certain that Jones gets his opportunities to make big plays.
“Kyle had Andre Johnson in Houston,” Theismann said. “He had Pierre Garcon in Washington. He has Julio Jones in Atlanta. He’s got his guy and he likes to mould the offence around that. Kyle finds a guy that he concentrates on, and that’s the guy that the offence goes through ... There are vertical aspects to it. The West Coast offence traditionally was not about ‘go’ routes and fades. It was posts and corners. I got into it once with Dwight Clark. I said, ‘Joe Montana can’t throw a fade.’ Dwight said, ‘How many rings does he have?’”
The Falcons have a chance Sunday to win a Super Bowl title. But if they do manage to upset the New England Patriots, it won’t necessarily be another championship for the offence of Walsh, Gruden, Mike Shanahan, Kubiak and others. It will be a title for Kyle Shanahan’s offence.
“We all originate from the same thing,” Kyle Shanahan said. “If you go all the way back to like, ‘What’s a West Coast offence?’ — we use some of that terminology. So that’s why I think people would say some of this is West Coast. But everybody’s offence is different. And when you go different places, unless you’re just running a playbook, it always changes. And ours has changed every year. It was different from the beginning. And it’s grown a lot different over the years.”
Matt Ryan talks things over with offensive co-ordinator Kyle Shanahan as the Atlanta Falcons prepare for the Super Bowl.