How San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan utilizes his unique trips combination

By Bobby Peters | Posted 4/13/2018

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Through the past three seasons, Kyle Shanahan has found unique ways to get his skill players the ball in space. Out of trips, the farthest receiver from the quarterback (No. 1 receiver) usually doesn’t get targeted much. In fact, they get targeted so little that some defenses are designed to leave a corner on an island with that receiver.

Shanahan likes to spread the ball out and will target that receiver with the route combination diagrammed below:

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As mentioned earlier, the outside receiver in trips is often forgotten in the passing game. This is especially true at the lower levels of football. With wider hash marks and weaker quarterbacks at the high school level, the routes run from the No. 1 receiver in trips are usually clear-outs. Therefore, this would be a good play to steal if you coach in the lower levels.

The No. 2 receiver will “rub” the defender guarding the No. 1 receiver. This technique is the critical element to opening the slant route from the outside. The rub opens up the receiver in man coverage. The video below shows an example of the route opening up against man coverage.

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Against off-man coverage, the No. 2 receiver will stay farther inside with a true vertical stem. This will allow him to get in the way of both defenders. The video below shows a good example of this technique. In this clip, he does not need to make contact as both defenders are slow to react to the slant route.

Also, notice how Shanahan deployed a running back as the No. 1 receiver. This forced a linebacker to get out of his comfort zone and play man-to-man coverage in space and have to try to avoid the pick. Linebackers don’t typically practice both of those things.


Against zone coverage, the No. 2 receiver is coached to stay short and curl inside the No. 1 defender. When the No. 2 defender jumps the slant route, the No. 2 receiver will curl up on his vertical stem and replace the zone that the No. 2 defender vacated. With this route technique, the play resembles a two-man levels concept.



This route has the same effect against man-match teams that pass routes off under five yards. The video below shows the curl adjustment from the No. 2 receiver opening up against zone coverage. The quarterback will very rarely find this receiver in his progression.

When defenses play with a single high safety, they have the ability to use a robber defender to double-team and help on the slant route. Shanahan will use single receiver routes and two-man combinations on the other side of the field to give his quarterback an alternative if the defense is prepared for the trips combination. The video below shows the single receiver running a 10-yard hitch route against a soft corner.


Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo reads the safety on his right to determine if he has single coverage with the hitch route. When he sees the safety buzz down to the weak side hook zone, he knows he will have his hitch route 1-on-1.




Because the weak side safety didn’t buzz out to the flats, Garoppolo knows he could fit the ball outside to the hitch and he threw an accurate pass. He probably could have gone to the pick concept on the trips side, but liked the matchup he had to the weak side.

The concept can be effective against both man and zone. To be effective, this concept requires that the quarterback identify if there is an extra defender to the trips side. If there is one, he has to go to the concept on the backside to take advantage of 1-on-1 matchups. Like any other passing concept, success often lies in the quarterback’s process of identifying the open receiver.

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Follow Bobby Peters on Twitter: @b_peters12

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