Kyle Shanahan’s History: Running Back Use


Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine are charged with turning around the team yet it could be that Kyle Shanahan and his creative offense, including the Zone Blocking/Running Scheme (ZBS) will define the team. Shanahan has had some success in the past with his father and Gary Kubiak. Primarily he is known for the ZBS and last 2 years using RG3 in zone read schemes. We want to take a look back at his history and see how he used players and what the stats say about his time as a offensive coordinator. Today we start by looking at running backs.


2008 was Shanahan’s first year officially as offensive coordinator. While still under Gary Kubiak who controlled much of the play calling, Shanahan still have responsibilities for game plan, scheming and decision making. His leading rusher that year was Steve Slaton, the small back who looked like he could break the mold a bit before falling out of the NFL. Slaton was backed up by Ahman Green, a veteran, and Ryan Moats got the 3rd most carries amongst the running backs. Lets take a look at how the carries, yards and TDs were split up:

PlayerCarries% of Total CarriesYards% of Total YardsTDs
Steve Slaton26872.8%128278.0%9
Ahman Green7420.1%29417.9%3
Ryan Moats267.1%684.1%2

Slaton got over 70% of the carries and even more of the yardage for the team. Green and Moats were not stellar options and got most of their carries when Slaton was hurt or getting a rest. That is a lot of carries for a smaller back. Lets see what it looked like the next year, 2009.


The following year it seems the carries from the previous year caught up to Slaton. He only played in 11 games due to injuries as well as some poor performances. This led to a backfield by committee including 1 guy who doesn’t make the Top 3 in carries but is a household name today: Arian Foster. The end of the season was a break out for Foster leading to his current spot atop the Texans depth chart. Foster went on to solidfy the spot but in 2009 it was all hands on deck trying to create a running game:

PlayerCarries% of Total CarriesYards% of Total YardsTDs
Steve Slaton13142.1%43739.9%3
Ryan Moats10132.5%39035.6%4
Chris Brown7925.4%26724.4%3

A much less potent running game due to injuries. Moats and Brown showed little ability to carry the teams’ load but when Foster burst on the scene is was obvious he was ready and he was given 19 and 20 carries the last 2 games of the season and averaged 5.5 yards a carry in those 2 games. The following year Shanahan moved on to Washington with his father:


In 2010 the Shanahan’s reunited with the Redskins. The team needed a new change and were going with their first season with Shanahan’s ZBS but had a history with the system for years under Joe Gibbs and others. Shanahan didn’t have the biggest names to work with in Washington, besides Clinton Portis who only played in 5 games, but still was able to make due with a quality running game, though by committee again.

PlayerCarries% of Total CarriesYards% of Total YardsTDs
Ryan Torain16458.0%74260.3%4
Keiland Williams6523.0%26121.2%3
Clinton Portis5419.1%22718.5%2

So again no RB carried the team greatly but they were able to put together a solid total between the 3 of them. The percentages were more split due to injuries, which could be a similar for the Browns with Tate’s history. Both Torain and Williams were young players that Shanahan was able to get use out of. Possibly similar to Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell.


2011 looks a lot like 2010. A committee approach with Roy Helu, Tim Hightower and Evan Royster stealing carries from Torain. Injuries and Mike Shanahan always play a part in running back issues but the pattern so far is interesting. How much does Kyle take after his father in regards to use of running backs? With Rex Grossman running the team it is a surprise that the team wanted to run alot. We are only looking at the top 3 running backs and how they split carries but Royster had 56 carries, just 3 less then Torain this year. It shows how spread out the carries were this year for his ZBS:

PlayerCarries% of Total CarriesYards% of Total YardsTDs
Roy Helu15151.4%64055.1%2
Tim Hightower8428.6%32127.6%1
Ryan Torain5920.1%20017.2%1

Nothing greatly stellar out of this group which is why the Redskins continued to look to upgrade their running game the following year:


The Redskins traded up to get Robert Griffin III who himself added 120 carries and 815 yards on the ground, including 7 touchdowns. The also drafted Alfred Morris who surprised many with his huge season. This is the first season since Slaton that Shanahan had a RB who carried the majority of the load. Having Griffin obviously helped as well. Could this be the future for the Browns? Johnny Manziel along with whoever is clearly the better runner, for year 1 and 2 likely Ben Tate, taking charge of the running game? Or will he have a more balanced attack to keep his runners fresh and will Brian Hoyer be behind center?

PlayerCarries% of Total CarriesYards% of Total YardsTDs
Alfred Morris33590.1%161391.6%13
Evan Royster236.2%885.0%2
Darrel Young143.8%603.4%0

In today’s NFL this is a highly unlikely scenario where one back takes 90% of the running back carries and has the same percentage of the yards for the backs. Especially with the resources the Browns spent to sign Tate and trade up for West expect a better split then this. The one encouraging thing that hasn’t been there since Slaton is a good number of TDs by the RB position. Would be a concern to not see those type of numbers as important as running the ball is to Shanahan.


Last year started with RG3 hurting and limited and finished that way as well. Morris on the other hand still had a very good season making it through all 16 games. One has to wonder how a change of coaches and all those reps could hurt him this up coming year. Griffin was still second on the team in rushing attempts with 86, yardage with 489 yards but failed to score any touchdowns. Anyone watching him last year knew he wasn’t right. The lessened threat of Griffin impacted the running game some:

PlayerCarries% of Total CarriesYards% of Total YardsTDs
Alfred Morris27678.9%127580.2%7
Roy Helu6217.7%27417.2%4
Darrel Young123.4%412.6%3

Morris still had a good season, and took less of the load including less of the TDs, only counting for half of the running backs scores. This should help Morris in the long term as staying fresh is important. How he fits in with Jay Gruden’s offense will be interesting as well. This season led to the dismissal of both Shanahans leading to Kyle coming over to Cleveland, what can we take away from these years for the Browns in 2014?


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Shanahan’s system seems to do much better with one back dominating. When the committee approach is used there are less yards, less yards per carry and less TDs. Ben Tate should get the first crack at being that workhorse back but the NFL has changed to less 1 back systems. Getting Tate 65% of the carries, or more, should be the goal. Injuries could lead that number to change but with the depth they have acquired at RB that shouldn’t be as big of a deal.

We will continue on looking at how Shanahan used wide receivers, tight ends and receivers in the passing game then finish up looking at his QB play.