The 49ers continue to redefine the smashmouth offense

49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers and head coach Kyle Shanahan continue to redefine the smashmouth offense with a unique, complicated, and varied rushing attack.

The San Francisco 49ers‘ defense has received the majority of the credit for the team’s success this season. And honestly, it’s hard to argue with that notion.

Star players reside in every level of the 49ers defense from Nick Bosa to Fred Warner to Richard Sherman. But quietly, head coach Kyle Shanahan has constructed an offense that is redefining the way NFL teams view certain schemes.

And in this case, we’re referring to the smashmouth offense.

The smashmouth offense has been around since the 1950s and has produced some of the most successful offenses in football history.

When you think of the smashmouth, you think of the great Green Bay Packers teams of the 1960s, the Chicago Bears teams of the 1980s, and even more recently the Dallas Cowboys teams with DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott as the centerpiece.

But those offenses look very different than the current iteration of the Shanahan-led 49ers. Yet, each has relied on a run-heavy, possession-based offense designed to wear the opponent out and control the clock.

However, the methods each team takes to reach their goals are very different. And the 49ers offense is unlike anything the NFL has really ever seen.

In many ways, it represents the future of the smashmouth offense.

Like any scheme, the smashmouth offense is evolving to fit today’s NFL. Instead of employing a power-run, I-formation-heavy scheme, the 49ers instead rely on pre-snap motion, versatility, and speed to run their offense.

The 49ers utilize pre-snap motion on a league-high 69% of their offensive plays and deploy outside zone runs more than any other NFL offense.

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It’s a movement-based offense designed to get the running back in space as opposed to the simple “run it straight into the heart of the defense” approach that the smashmouth has become synonymous with.

This is a departure from typical run-based offenses but it’s proved to be even more effective in the modern NFL.

Certain NFL franchises still opt for a more traditional smashmouth offense. The best example of this would probably be the Derrick Henry-led Tennessee Titans who rely on Henry’s power-running and their physical offensive linemen to carve out yards in short order.

But that offense is one-dimensional and could be stopped with a little scheming. The 49ers upcoming Super Bowl, opponents, the Kansas City Chiefs, held Henry to under 70 yards in the AFC Championship Game and the Titans’ offense has no answer.

The 49ers offense is a completely different animal, however.

The Chiefs stacked the box against the Titans and relied on their powerful defensive linemen up front to plug up gaps in the running games. Players like Chris Jones and Mike Pennel were integral to the Chiefs success on Sunday.

That approach just isn’t going to work against the 49ers though.

San Francisco’s offense is built to exploit stacked boxes with off-tackle runs, wide receiver motions, and pulling linemen. You need speed to stop this 49ers offense and you need your defenders to be able to tackle in open space.

Simply put, scheming won’t do you any good if you don’t have adequate personnel.

That’s how the 49ers have been able to find so much success on the ground lately. The Packers’ defense is much-improved this season but they simply didn’t have the speed to make plays in open space.

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And as a result, the 49ers ran all over them.

This is the future of run-based offenses. You don’t need a superstar running back. You don’t need All-Pro receivers or a top-five quarterback.

You need speed. Speed from your running backs and speed from your offensive linemen.

It also helps to have one of the best blocking tight ends in the game today in George Kittle and some receivers who are capable of blocking too. In fact, Shanahan has found ways to get those receivers involved in the running game as well — whether as ball-carriers or lead blockers.

Speed is the name of the game in today’s NFL and the smashmouth concept has been flipped on its head as a result. It’s no longer mano-a-mano with linemen smashing up against each other.

Instead, it’s about creating open space with agile blockers and watching your running backs make plays.

Next. The San Francisco 49ers are defined by a culture of resilience. dark

That’s the Kyle Shanahan approach and that’s the future of smashmouth football.