Two words that might come to mind when you think of Kyle Shanahan are nepotism and dysfunction.
Shanahan, the son and former offensive coordinator of recently-fired Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, has had to respond to critics who questioned his coaching chops during two different stints as an NFL coordinator, and he was caught in that mess between his dad and Robert Griffin III this season.
All that D.C. drama aside -- not that it isn’t noteworthy -- what is Kyle Shanahan’s style as a coordinator?
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Two words that also should come to mind when you think about the Shanahans are zone and blocking, two words that when put together are considered dirty words in Baltimore.
Mike Shanahan used a heavy dose of zone blocking while winning two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos and seemingly taking no-name players off the street, handing them a helmet and turning them into 1,000-yard rushers.
Kyle Shanahan’s first stint as an offensive coordinator was with Mike Shanahan disciple Gary Kubiak, who brought zone-blocking schemes to the Houston Texans in 2008. Steve Slaton rushed for 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns that season before fizzling out in 2009. Late in that season, we saw the first signs of the emergence of Arian Foster.
Kyle Shanahan joined his father in Washington in 2010 and the Redskins relied on zone blocking to run the ball with a few different backs. In 2012, the Redskins drafted Griffin, the dual-threat quarterback out of Baylor, and running back Alfred Morris and used the threat of read-option runs to take their zone runs to another level.
As you may have heard, things went awry with the Redskins this past season, but Shanahan coordinated an offense that ranked in the top 10 in total yards for the fourth time in his six seasons as an NFL coordinator.
Combine the 34-year-old’s moderate success as an offensive coordinator with his fondness for zone blocking, and you can see why the Ravens interviewed him.
Despite their struggles running the ball this past season, the Ravens appear committed to the zone-blocking schemes that were put under the microscope (even though they have been using zone blocking for years). After all, run game coordinator Juan Castillo is not going anywhere, so I doubt his schemes are.
So it could be a good marriage there in terms of the running game, something the Ravens have vowed to fix. But what about quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing game?
Based on what he did in Houston and Washington, Shanahan might have to change his approach to take advantage of Flacco’s powerful right arm, something I said was essential for the team’s next coordinator a couple of days ago.
While Griffin threw play-action passes perhaps more than anyone over the past two seasons, he ranked near the bottom of the league in deep passing attempts, according to Pro Football Focus. And in Shanahan’s two years in Houston, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub also did not throw the ball beyond 20 yards very often.
Of course, neither of those quarterbacks have an arm as strong as Flacco, and any smart coordinator tailors his offense to his players, but it’s something to think about.