Phil Perry

What the Patriots would look like with a Shanahan-style offense

New England's list of potential OCs includes several members of Kyle Shanahan's coaching tree.

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While the New England Patriots didn't have to look very far to find their next head coach, their offensive coordinator search has been exhaustive. They're 11 interviewees deep, with Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer reporting that San Francisco 49ers pass game coordinator Klint Kubiak and Las Vegas Raiders pass game coordinator Scott Turner have entered the fray.

Though New England seems to be most fascinated in picking the brains of Sean McVay's assistants -- Los Angeles Rams tight ends coach Nick Caley had a second interview with the Patriots this week -- there's a clear interest there in Kyle Shanahan's coaching tree as well. Not only have the Patriots interviewed Kubiak, who's headed to a Super Bowl in his first year coaching under Shanahan, but Jerod Mayo has also spent time getting to know San Francisco tight ends coach Brian Fleury, who's in his fifth season with the 49ers.

There are plenty of Shanahan-adjacent assistants on the list of Patriots potential offensive coordinators, too. Former Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy worked under longtime Shanahan assistant Matt LaFleur in Green Bay from 2019-2021. Texans quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson just finished his first season working under offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, who coached on Shanahan's offensive staff in San Francisco for four years. 

As is the case with McVay's scheme, we refer to "The Shanahan Offense" constantly, oftentimes lumping it in with other West Coast systems. And because Shanahan assistants have been strewn across the league with owners hoping to capture whatever it is that's happening out in the Bay Area, anyone who's watched football over the last decade or more likely has a pretty good idea of what Shanahan's offense entails.

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But let's dig a little deeper into some of the staples that Shanahan's assistants -- or assistants of his assistants -- may bring to New England if hired to run their offense. 

Ready to jet

While there are myriad differences between the offenses run by colleagues-turned-rivals Shanahan and McVay, they both love to get their playmakers on the move. In particular, they want players moving at the snap. Per ESPN Stats and Info, the Niners ranked third in the NFL this season in their percentage of offensive snaps run with a player motioning at the snap (37.7 percent), behind only McVay's Rams (44.1) and former Shanahan assistant Mike McDaniel's Miami Dolphins (68.2).

According to Sports Info Solutions, the Niners ranked first in the league in their number of run-game snaps that utilized any motion, and they placed fifth in the league in terms of passing plays that utilized motion. Oftentimes, those motions came with San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy operating from under center. The Niners were fourth in the NFL in under-center hand-offs and 13th in under-center drop-back pass attempts.

Like the Rams, the Niners offense features wide receivers who have no problem with the more physical aspects of their jobs. Shanahan has called Jauan Jennings one of the best run-blocking receivers he's ever seen, while Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk have the ability to displace defenders one-on-one as well. Getting those players on the move forces defenses to react because they pose threats both as impact-blockers in the running game as well as downfield targets in the passing game.

The same is true for fullback Kyle Jusczcyk and tight end George Kittle. Both have reminded onlookers through two playoff games over the last two weeks that they're handfuls both as receivers and blockers. 

With a variety of weapons who can function in various capacities with or without the ball in their hands from snap to snap, Shanahan can keep defenses off balance and disguise his run and pass-game intentions. Motioning players as often as he does and exploiting the angles that movement creates is one of the foundational features of Shanahan's attack to further mess with his opponents.

Going heavy

One of the ways in which McVay has broken off from Shanahan is his reliance on 11 personnel (three receivers, one back, one tight end). With an athletic fullback like Jusczcyk on the roster and one of the best and most versatile weapons in the NFL in running back Christian McCaffrey, Shanahan deploys a mess of two-back looks. His team led the league in two-back passing snaps in 2023, per SIS, and they were second in passing snaps with heavier personnel on the field (just two wideouts). 

One would think that his personnel's ability to shapeshift on the fly from a run-heavy look to a more spread formation would allow Shanahan to lean heavily on play-action passes. With Purdy this season, however, the Niners ranked 18th in play-action percentage (22 percent). When Shanahan did call for a pass off a run fake, however, his team was wildly efficient with a 10.7 yards per attempt figure. That ranked second in the NFL, behind only Slowik's Texans (11.2) and just ahead of McVay's Rams (10.2).

Because of the two-headed monster backfield the Niners prefer, they won't be confused for a college offense any time soon. They also have little use for the RPO game that has become more popular in some corners of the league. According to SIS, they ranked 25th in RPO dropbacks and last in RPO runs in 2023. Instead, to complement their downfield passing game, they relied on screens more than most. Purdy's 11.6 screen percentage last season was seventh-highest in the NFL. 

In the zone

Whereas McVay has taken to more of a downhill-rushing approach with "gap" calls in Los Angeles, Shanahan has stayed a bit more true to the style of the running game his father Mike Shanahan made famous in Denver in the 1990s. 

On early downs, the Niners like to get under center and take advantage of an athletic group of linemen by relying on zone run calls. According to Pro Football Focus, McCaffrey led the NFL in zone rushing attempts this season. Per SIS, the Niners as a team were third in zone rushing attempts and first in zone rushing yardage.

While the Niners weren't a huge roll-out play-action team (20th in play-action dropbacks from under center) -- often a feature in Shanahan's offense and the attacks of his disciples -- they didn't need to be in order for their zone runs to produce chunk plays. They led the NFL on zone-run calls with 4.8 yards per carry, and they were second in the league in first-down percentage on those plays (31.3 percent). Amazingly, they generated more than twice the EPA (13.06) of the next-best team in football (Eagles, 6.39) when Shanahan called for zone runs in 2023, per SIS. 

The Niners, it should come as little surprise, also favored run calls that got Kittle and Juszczyk on the move as blockers. Their relentlessness in the running game was highlighted as San Francisco ranked eighth in the NFL in "wham" and "split-flow" zone runs that get tight ends (or fullbacks) on the move as the ball is snapped.

Bottom line

Kubiak is the son of Gary Kubiak, a longtime assistant of Mike Shanahan and former head coach in Houston and Denver, and an assistant head coach in Minnesota who's had a huge hand in West Coast schemes spreading across the league. Kubiak's assistants in Minnesota included Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski and Cardinals offensive coordinator Drew Petzing, who've carried scheme similarities to their current jobs. In Houston, Kubiak was Kyle Shanahan's boss. In Denver, he worked with new Tennessee Titans head coach Brian Callahan, who coached in a similar scheme in Cincinnati with McVay assistant Zac Taylor. 

All that is to say, Klint Kubiak knows as well as anyone there isn't just one way to skin a cat. He's seen various versions of "The Shanahan Offense" work in different locales with different rosters that featured different personnel groupings to leverage their best players.

But if Kubiak, Fleury, Getsy or Johnson end up running the offense in New England, there's a good chance they rely on some of the same staples we've seen in San Francisco in recent years.

Get versatile players. 

Get them on the move. 

And, while incorporating some exotic-looking pre-snap designs, get the ball down the field with play calls that are decades old.

If any of these candidates to coordinate the Patriots offense can sell Mayo and Patriots brass on that style of attack, they may have a job in short order.

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