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How 49ers will avoid filling up on McDaniel's 'eye-candy' offense

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SANTA CLARA — The players are different, but the ideas are much the same.

When the 49ers face the Miami Dolphins in Week 13 at Levi’s Stadium, both defenses will be challenged against offenses that look quite familiar.

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel worked under 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan for a dozen years with Houston, Washington, Cleveland, Atlanta and San Francisco.

McDaniel has taken a slightly altered version of Shanahan’s offense with him to South Beach. On Sunday, both teams will showcase their schemes in the South Bay.

“It's our offensive scheme, and McDaniel does a really good job of mixing things up,” 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “Not too many plays are the same.

“He finds a way to get different players in different positions, a lot of different looks, a lot of different motions to get defenses confused and looking at all these things that are going on. So he does a good job of creating space.”

The Dolphins, like the 49ers, lean heavily on pre-snap movement to force defenses to reveal their coverages and, possibly, create confusion with adjustments. The Dolphins (75 percent) and 49ers (71 percent) rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the NFL at using pre-snap motion.

“By moving guys around, making guys have to communicate and he hits you with any type of play, whether it’s run game, pass game,” Ryans said. “He makes the play-action marry up with the run game, which makes it even more difficult. So just shout out to McDaniel. He's doing a really good job there.”

 

One problem in preparing to face a Shanahan-influenced coach such as McDaniel is that film study and anticipation can work as a disadvantage. The term “eye candy” is used to describe how movement is deployed to distract defenses from following through with their assignments.

Just because a personnel grouping, formation and play at the snap of the ball might look identical to something the Dolphins have shown before, it could be a completely different play that was set up weeks earlier.

“It feels like training camp,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said. “Obviously, that’s something we deal with all training camp against our offense. That’ll be helpful in playing a team like this.

“It’s about being disciplined in your fits. You mentioned ‘eye candy,’ just knowing where your eyes are going. And, ultimately, just executing your assignment.”

Ryans said the 49ers’ defense must lean on their rules to fill in the blanks in order to execute against facets of the Dolphins' offense that McDaniel has yet to unveil this season.

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“There's a lot of things that he probably can do that we haven't seen, so a lot of things you can't worry about,” Ryans said. “For us, it always goes back, you probably hear me say this every week, but it goes back to us and just playing our fundamentals, our technique and being exactly where we're supposed to be.

“That doesn't change for us each week. I want to keep it consistent with our guys to make sure we're playing as fast as we can play. It doesn't matter what they do or what they present. It doesn't matter, it's about us and how we handle those things.” 

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