- San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan appeared to predict the future at one point during Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.
- Before a snap in the fourth quarter, Shanahan called out to a nearby official, telling him to watch for a defensive penalty on the upcoming play.
- ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky explained that the moment was a result of Shanahan knowing what the Packers players would do as well as they did.
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San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was firing on all cylinders as he led his team to a 37-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship on Sunday.
Shanahan stuck to his game plan, relying on running back Raheem Mostert to carry the load and daring the Packers defense to stop him. Checking the box score, it’s clear that Shanahan was in control of the entire game – quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo only needed to attempt eight passes in the 49ers’ dominant win.
But despite the 49ers’ game-long dominance, there was one play in particular that highlighted Shanahan’s mastery in terms of both play design and reading his opponents.
Kyle Shanahan predicts the future.
Kyle Shanahan called DPI before it happened ????
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 22, 2020
In the fourth quarter with the 49ers already leading 34-20, San Francisco had the ball just inside Packers territory facing third-and-3.
Looking over the play before the snap, Shanahan told the referee standing next to him what was about to happen, and what to look for. “Five-yard out route, 85 vs. their guy. He’s going to go inside and break out, he won’t let him out. Watch.”
Garoppolo snapped the ball and targeted tight end George Kittle (85), who faked a move inside before breaking towards the sideline, with Packers safety Will Redmond refusing to let him through, drawing a defensive pass interference penalty.
The scene had played out just as Shanahan predicted.
As ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky explains, Shanahan’s prediction wasn’t luck, but rather the result of his own preparation and scheming.
Here it is ????????
NOT ALL COACHES ARE CREATED EQUAL!! @49ers fans your coach is SPECIAL! Send it to the masses!!! @Rob_Lowder @usatodaysports @LeBatardShow @NinersNation @49ersPR @MaioccoNBCS @GetUpESPN #SuperBowlLIV #NFLGamepass pic.twitter.com/iu4iVDhRaa
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) January 22, 2020
As ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky would later explain, Shanahan knew what was going to happen thanks to his understanding of play design and his ability to read the Packers defense in three steps.
A former quarterback himself, Orlovsky takes his audience through what both Garoppolo and Shanahan are seeing from the Packers defense.
First, Shanahan recognizes that the Packers are in man-to-man coverage, with a difference on the edges.
- @DanOrlovsky7 / Twitter
First, Shanahan is able to recognize that the Packers are in man coverage, with five players on the line of scrimmage. “Kyle Shanahan sees man coverage on the backend, but five guys across the line of scrimmage” Orlovsky explains. “But there’s a difference – one guy has his hand in the ground, one guy doesn’t. He’s standing up. That’s a trigger for Kyle.”
Thanks to that tell, along with the positioning of the Packers middle linebacker, Shanahan knows the defender on the right edge standing up at the line of scrimmage will be responsible for guarding the running back coming out of the backfield.
From there, Shanahan acknowledges the responsibilities of the middle linebacker, and how the defense will play accordingly.
- @DanOrlovsky7 / Twitter
Orlovsky continues: “The defense the Packers are running is a ‘funnel’ defense. It’s a help defense. [The middle linebacker] has no one in man-to-man coverage responsibilities. He stays in the middle of the field, he reads the quarterback’s eyes, and he helps on any in-breaking route. Kyle knows that.”
Because the defenders on the outside know they have help from the linebacker with any action that moves to the inside of the field, they will do everything they can to keep outside leverage on their man.
“Make your defender think he’s won.”
- @DanOrlovsky7 / Twitter
The final key to Shanahan’s prediction is a mantra Orlovsky says he coaches into his receivers: “Make your defender think he’s won.”
Rather than immediately break outside, Kittle instead first feints towards the center of the field, with Redmond holding his outside leverage with the knowledge that his middle linebacker is there to cover the inside.
When Kittle then changes course and breaks to the sideline, Redmond realizes he’s on his own, and out of position. Knowing he needs to keep Kittle inside rather than let him break loose, Redmond grabs onto Kittle. When the ball is thrown, penalty flags from the referee follow shortly after.
The result: Shanahan can predict the future.
While Shanahan’s prediction grabbed plenty of attention on Twitter, the reason it came to fruition is not just because he had a great read on the Packers defense, but also because he’s a good enough coach that all of his players recognized the same things.
Kittle knew to initially break inside to force the issue, Garoppolo knew to look towards Kittle, and thus, Shanahan knew to let the referee know to look for the flag.
Each football play is a machine with plenty of moving parts, but when you know the blueprint as well as Shanahan does, it’s not as difficult to predict what’s coming next.