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Why the 49ers Almost Never Pass from Under Center Anymore

Here's what offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said Thursday about the adjustment the 49ers' made for Garoppolo.

Kyle Shanahan changed his offense for Jimmy Garoppolo.

For decades, the Mike Shanahan-Kyle Shanahan Offense looked a certain way: The quarterback undercenter, him turning and handing off or throwing a play-action pass. The play-action pass from under center in particular was the staple of the Shanahan offense.

Not anymore.

The 49ers have discovered that their current quarterback, Garoppolo, is much more comfortable and decisive throwing from the shotgun. So for the past few weeks, he has thrown 99 percent of his passes from the gun. Which means when he's under center, the 49ers almost always run now.

Here's what offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said Thursday about the adjustment the 49ers' made for Garoppolo:

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Q: A staple of your offense has been under center and play action and the quarterback turns his back to the defense. And that obviously causes problems for the defense. It's hard for the quarterback as well. You guys have gone far more shotgun, almost exclusively the last three weeks. Why the change?

McDANIEL: “Well, I think one thing that I know Kyle's always prided himself on, and we as a staff, challenge yourself to do things that fit your player skillsets and what makes them most comfortable. You try to avoid, ‘Well, we've always done it this way.’ So you're evolving to whatever your player skillsets are. And as you spend more time with them and learn the ins and outs of how they play you recognize, ‘Well, Jimmy's a lot more decisive in the gun. He likes to see it while he's delivering tight window throws.’ So how do we implement that more without losing the greatest advantage you have offensively, which is you know the play and they don't. So minimizing pass exclusive situations, which on first and second down, you can do if you have the threat of run out of gun. And we've just kind of evolved. Kyle in 2019, really started noticing that and put pressure on us to evolve our gun run package. And every week you figure out different ways to do some of the same things, maybe a couple of wrinkles. But keep the defense honest without being pass exclusive in any situation other than third-and-six plus, or whatever.”

Q: Has there been a certain tipping point because, obviously, Jimmy didn't just get here and it's been a rather stark difference. Was there like a specific-- has Jimmy had input on that or?

McDANIEL: “No, it's funny. I'm trying to think, now that you say something and I've heard that we probably have been in gun more, but it's something that we really evolved to implementing a ton of it in the 2019 season and in training camp, almost every play we have under center or in gun. So it also has to do with the running backs. We've been playing with younger backs lately because of various circumstances. And the one thing about college football is a lot of it's out of shotgun. So then you start learning your rookies, which is a constant process. And you're like, ‘Wow, they, they are a little more comfortable right now doing that.’ So a lot goes into it, but it wasn't a conscious decision. It just kind of evolves. You're looking at a play, ‘Okay. What are the ramifications if we're in gun? Okay, well, they're the defensive tackles get wider because they are playing pass rush. How do you take advantage of that? Okay we don't want to do that, or maybe we do.’ It's something that's kind of organic. It's not something that we're doing just because we made an absolute. It's play by play really and fitting our scheme to the needs of our players.”

Q: Is there an advantage to running out of the gun?

McDANIEL: “There can be there, in terms of, first and foremost, can you have accurate snaps? That’s the first way to blow a play up is if the quarterback can't handle the football. Typically, there are some disadvantages in terms of where backers can play and whether or not they have to play the front side that much, but that's something that we've put a lot of time in to make sure that, ‘Hey, if they are overplaying our offset gun, how do we make them pay?’ That's something that is really the lens we approach every play and every scenario is what does the defense do to take this away or make it worse? Okay then so we need to work on something to take advantage of that.”