San Francisco 49ers Offensive Formation Breakdown: Gun Far Pro Twins – Part 1

The San Francisco 49ers should improve over last year’s debacle of a season, where they finished 5-11. Beyond addressing regular team needs, new coach Chip Kelly is probably facing his last chance to try his no-huddle offense in the NFL. Much-criticized for not managing the clock properly, the style does provide some unique and interesting plays. One formation that is a staple of Kelly’s offensive scheme is the Gun Far Pro Twins formation, which will certainly be used in San Francisco. In a three-part series, Matthew Brown breaks down the formation: In Part 1, he looks at the various running plays run out of Gun Far Pro Twins; Part 2 will look at passing from the formation; and Part 3 will add play action and RPOs.


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(Thanks to @JoeyIckes for notifying me that I had previously included the Eagles’ not often used goalline version of this formation where the tight end is ineligible as a receiver due to the Z being on the line of scrimmage. I decided to only include the above version, though, as it is used far more often.)

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Running Plays

Unlike more conventional offenses, Chip Kelly’s teams do not run the football to manage the clock. Instead, Kelly sees rushing as a way to tire defenses out, to hurt them, and to keep them on their toes. Kelly believes in physical football, just out of a spread system. The zone blocking system is based around linemen blocking gaps – not one assigned defender. The offensive line has to work out if its gap is currently covered by a defender or left open. The linemen who have their gap covered block the defender to the playside gap. Meanwhile, those who do not have their gap covered move to the playside to help the lineman next to them double team their defender in order to control that gap. Once at the second level, the lineman who has helped to double team the defender moves on to block a linebacker.

Inside Zone

The inside zone run is the most used play out of Gun Far Pro Twins – and Kelly’s favorite run. The Gun Far Pro Twins formation, by spreading defenses out, sets up the defense so that the running back is likely to face a box of six men or fewer. This is best seen in 2015’s Week 17 on the road against the New York Giants.

In the following video, the Eagles are backed up on their own 2-yard line. Despite this, the formation’s threat in the passing game means that, even in a situation where a run is more likely, the Giants come out in a nickel formation with six in the box. The offense has six blockers in the box. (Note: Even though the ball comes loose at the end of the play, the runner was down). The Eagles’ offensive line does a great job of getting to the second level.

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Kelly’s Inside Zone also exists with wide receiver motion. This is used when a strong safety is in the box, or is looking like he is going to blitz.

Here wide receiver Riley Cooper (#14) is motioned inward to block strong safety Roman Harper (#41):

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Outside Zone

The outside zone play in this formation is technically an outside zone read, but neither Sam Bradford nor Mark Sanchez kept the football running this play last season; the only time either quarterback kept the ball was when faking the outside zone on the PA Waggle (which will be covered in part 3 of this breakdown). The play stretches a defense out, and – with good downfield blocking – can go for a large gain.

Here, the Dolphins are bullied by the Eagles’ offensive line, as their linebackers cannot get to the ball carrier. DeMarco Murray waits patiently for his blockers and finds a nice seam to surge through. Meanwhile, the wide receivers do a good job clearing out space.

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Just like the inside zone run from this formation, the outside zone is also, at times, run with pre-snap motion.

The motion principles are similar: The strong safety appears to be blitzing, so the wide receiver is brought in motion to block him.

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Pin-Pull Counter / Jab Sweep

The Eagles had a pin-pull counter play out of this formation, also known as a jab sweep which they used one or two times a game. The term is described brilliantly by Inside The Pylon’s Daniel Syed:

[Jab sweep] gives a mixed flow read to the linebackers because the running back is on the same side as the direction of the play. This time, the QB doesn’t have a read, while the running back takes a drop step to time up with the pulling lineman.

Three linemen pull on this play: The left tackle, the center, and the right tackle. Blocking into the A gap, the left tackle pulls. The left guard checks the 6 tech, and then oozes to the linebacker at the second level. Running through the space created by the right tackle and the tight end, the center pulls, aiming to block the other linebacker.  In order to widen the alley, the right guard takes on the 0i, while the the right tackle pulls and kicks out the wide 9. The tight end takes the 6 tech. The running back follows the center through the alley, hitting a big hole.

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Pin-Pull Pitch

The pitch play from this formation was seen in only one Eagles game last season, in Week 15 against Arizona. Most similar to the jab sweep, this play has the lineman pinning and pulling; the defensive front dictates which linemen pin and which pull.

In this play, the right guard creates the alley for the center to surge through, taking the final linebacker out of the play as the running back follows this block. The play can be found below, executed perfectly – wide receiver Jordan Matthews (#81) deserves a special mention for his blocking downfield, enabling the play to go for a bigger gain.

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The Eagles should probably have run this play more often. They ran it just three times this game, where it gained 28 yards. Viewers should expect to see it more often this year.

Wide Receiver Sweep

The wide receiver sweep was run once all season from this formation, against Washington. Darren Sproles is lined up in the slot, perhaps indicating pre-snap that this play is designed to get him the football either in a bubble screen or a sweep. He only gains 2 yards on the play, with the defensive line overpowering the Eagles’ blocks.

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[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Team Fit for the Running Scheme

It is worth considering the potential of these run plays in San Francisco, with the more mobile and athletic quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick being more suitable for running zone read plays. It is also fair to say that Carlos Hyde suits the uptempo style of running more than a Murray-type of runner, he just needs to prove that he can stay on the field. In terms of potential wide receivers who could run the football, Torrey Smith did so to varying degrees of success in his first two years in Baltimore.

In regards to actual run blocking, the 49ers’ offensive line should be boosted by the potential return of Anthony Davis. The biggest offseason addition in terms of run-blocking has to be their first-round draft pick, guard Joshua Garnett, who excels in this area. San Francisco’s wide receiver corps though, lacks talent, and also lacks ability in the run-game specifically. However, similar limitations in regards to wide receiver run blocking existed in Philadelphia. Yet, this was not the reason for what became, at times, a disappointing run game. It was more Kelly’s insistence on plugging square pegs in round holes in regards to the running back position.

Coaching-wise, Kelly likes to have his offensive coordinator as more of a run expert. This makes his appointment of Curtis Modkins an excellent one. Modkins’ previous job was in Detroit, where he was a running backs coach for three years and his coaching background is full of power running.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Conclusion

Kelly’s belief in using spread formations to run the football should see the 49ers’ offense improve considerably. The Gun Far Pro Twins formation is a great example of how the spread provides favorable matchups for running plays. In San Francisco, he has better personnel for his scheme, and a fanbase who is craving a fully functioning offense once more. His rushing offense has every chance of succeeding in the Bay Area.

Follow Matthew on Twitter @mattyfbrown. Check out Matt’s piece on Kenneth Dixon and what the Ravens should expect from him this season.

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