MIAMI, Fla. – Steve Spagnuolo has a tough challenge ahead going head-to-head with Kyle Shanahan. The Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator has been wading through 49ers tape for days and has come away impressed with how the 49ers head coach calls and creates offensive plays.
He’ll trying to crack Shanahan’s scheme during Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, something defenses rarely do these days.
“What really impresses me is that, whatever team they’re getting ready to play, they attack that scheme,” Spagnuolo said. “You’re not going to see what you saw in previous games.”
Sometimes, too, eyes may deceive you. That’s because Shanahan’s so good at disguising his true offensive intentions. Spagnuolo said there are often no clues tipping the 49ers hand. The Chiefs must respect the threat of run or pass on every down.
“Kyle was doing this – his dad [Mike Shanahan] did it, too – where their run plays look exactly like their play action passes,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s not always easy to do. There are coaches who make them look the same but the really don’t. These guys do.”
The 49ers have dominated on the ground with an ever-expanding playbook of creative, well-designed runs. Shanahan is well known for a zone-blocking scheme, but he’s starting to bring power principles into his game. That has made the 49ers hard to prepare for and even harder to stop.
“If you’re going to defend the zone scheme, you tell people to go downhill and not east or west,” Spagnuolo said. "When you start throwing the gap schemes in and you’re going downhill and they’re pulling, it makes for a headache.”
Spagnuolo might have to pop some Advil after watching the 49ers offense work recently. They have been running with great effect, dominating the NFC playoffs almost exclusively on the ground. Jimmy Garoppolo has only thrown 27 times this postseason and had just eight attempts in the NFC Championship Game. They averaged 235 rushing yards per game in the playoffs and recorded at least 119 in their last seven games.
“You can see now that they have a rhythm to what they do,” Spagnuolo said. “That offensive line has been together for a little while. No matter what running back they put in there, he’s producing. And I have great respect for their quarterback [Jimmy Garoppolo]. I would say that if he threw two times last week. He’s still a threat to work the ball downfield. It’s going to be one heck of a challenge.”