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Shanny Ball 101: How Kyle Shanahan, Arthur Smith and more have adapted the Mike Shanahan scheme to punish NFL defenses

September 13, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers players huddle during the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

By the time Bill Walsh had left the coaching ranks of the NFL, the West Coast Offense had already started to permeate the league. Offenses were entranced by the idea of the long handoff and safer throws away from better coverage defenders before the pass rush could punish the quarterback.

As the decades have passed, the true west coast attack has given way to the trickling-up process of the “spread” and “air raid” offenses, translating an old-school approach to an era all about maximizing space and throwing windows.

Over this same period, a scheme pioneered by Mike Shanahan was undergoing the same kind of evolutionary process. A method of series-based playcalling emerged, where concepts build off each other to punish a defense for overplaying any one part of the scheme.

Since the magic of the 2012 season in Washington and the unceremonious firing of the staff soon thereafter, the offense has grown so popular that disciples of the Shanahan system have been catapulted up the coaching hierarchy. Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Gary Kubiak (now retired), Matt LaFleur, Arthur Smith and Kevin Stefanski have all coordinated this offense and have all found themselves leading an NFL franchise.

So what makes “Shanny ball” so effective? The answer, of course, lies in the series of playcalls that are fundamental to keeping the offense ticking.

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