The Gospel Of Shanahan Is This AFC Coach’s Definitive Playbook

June 19, 2022

The history of the Shanahan zone run system could mean success for Miami’s run game.

The Miami Dolphins did not have a good year offensively last season. They had one of the worst offenses last season with a middle-of-the-pack passing attack. Miami finished 25th in total yards, 25th in yards per game, 17th in total passing yards, 17th in passing yards per game, 30th in rushing yards, and 30th in rushing yards per game. Miami also had a bottom 20 scoring team finishing in the bottom 20 in points total and points per game. But why did Miami struggle so much on offense? All signs point to the running game.

McDaniel Learned From Mike Shanahan’s Offense

Enter Mike McDaniel. His success last year as offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers was a key factor in his hiring by Miami. However, not many know that he has had the opportunity to soak in all the knowledge of the Mike Shanahan way of offense since 2005 when he interned with the Denver Broncos. Those coaching staffs saw some highly effective ground games. So, it is fair to say McDaniel is bringing expertise when it comes to the rushing attack.

But what does that success from Shanahan actually look like historically? Looking deeper at the rushing performances of each season under coaches from the Shanahan-tree, there are seasons that saw significant success in the running game. This is the reason that the Dolphins is destined for a huge uptick in rushing production this year. 

Looking at the list of rushing performances listed below, it should be noted that the Shanahan-tree list is more about the scheme McDaniel will be implementing, not necessarily that he was on staff during all of the seasons below. For the purpose of this list, the primary coaches McDaniel has served under are listed, who are Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan, and Gary Kubiak.

Running Backs Under The Shanahan Offense

All player and coach positions, as well as statistics, are taken from Pro Football Reference.

1991 Denver Broncos (OC Mike Shanahan): Gatson Green rushed for 1,037 yards.

1992 San Fransisco 49ers (OC Mike Shanahan): Ricky Watters rushed for 1,013 yards.

1994 San Fransisco 49ers (OC Mike Shanahan): 49ers defeated the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl. XXIX, 49-26

1995 Denver Broncos (HC Mike Shanahan, OC Gary Kubiak): Terrel Davis rushed for 1,117 yards.

1996 Denver Broncos (HC Mike Shanahan, OC Gary Kubiak): Terrel Davis rushed for 1,538 yards.

1997 Denver Broncos (HC Mike Shanahan, OC Gary Kubiak): Terrel Davis rushed for 1,750 yards; Broncos. defeated the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, 31-24.

1998 Denver Broncos (HC Mike Shanahan, OC Gary Kubiak): Terrel Davis rushed for 2,008 yards; Broncos defeated the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII, 34-19.

1999 Denver Broncos (HC Mike Shanahan, OC Gary Kubiak): Olandis Gary rushed for 1,159 yards.

2000 Denver Broncos (HC Mike Shanahan, OC Gary Kubiak): Mike Anderson rushed for 1,497 yards.

2001 Denver Broncos (HC Mike Shanahan, OC Gary Kubiak): Terrel Davis rushed for 701 yards and Mike Anderson rushed for 678 yards.

2002 Denver Broncos (HC Mike Shanahan, OC Gary Kubiak): Clinton Portis rushed for 1,508 yards.

2003 Denver Broncos (HC Mike Shanahan, OC Gary Kubiak): Clinton Portis rushed for 1,591 yards.

2004 Denver Broncos (HC Mike Shanahan, OC Gary Kubiak): Reuben Droughns rushed for 1,240 yards.

2005 Denver Broncos (HC Mike Shanahan, OC Gary Kubiak): Mike Anderson rushed for 1,014 yards.

2006 Denver Broncos (HC Mike Shanahan): Tatum Bell rushed for 1,025 yards and Mike Bell rushed for 677 yards.

2007 Denver Broncos (HC Mike Shanahan): Selvin Young rushed for 729 yards and Travis Henry rushed for 691 yards

2008 Houston Texans (HC Gary Kubiak, OC Kyle Shanahan): Steve Slayton rushed for 1,282 yards.

2010 Houston Texans (HC Gary Kubiak): Arian Foster rushed for 1,616 yards.

2011 Houston Texans (HC Gary Kubiak): Arian Foster rushed for 1,224 yards and Ben Tate rushed for 942 yards.

2012 Washington Commanders (HC Mike Shanahan, OC Kyle Shanahan): Alfred Morris rushed for 1,613 yards and QB Robert Griffin III rushed for 815 yards.

2012 Houston Texans (HC Gary Kubiak): Arian Foster rushed for 1,424 yards.

2013 Washington Commanders (HC Mike Shanahan, OC Kyle Shanahan): Alfred Morris rushed for 1,275 yards.

2014 Baltimore Ravens (OC Gary Kubiak): Justin Forsett rushed for 1,266 yards.

2015 Atlanta Falcons (OC Kyle Shanahan): Devonta Freeman rushed for 1,056 yards.

2015 Denver Broncos (HC Gary Kubiak): Ronnie Hillman rushed for 863 yards and CJ Anderson rushed for 720; Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, 24-10.

2016 Atlanta Falcons (OC Kyle Shanahan): Devonta Freeman rushed for 1,079 yards; Falcons lost in Super Bowl LI 34-28.

2019 Minnesota Vikings (ACH Gary Kubiak): Dalvin Cook rushed for 1,135 yards.

2019 San Fransisco 49ers (HC Kyle Shanahan): Raheem Mostert rushed for 772 yards, Matt Breida rushed for 623 yards, and Tevin Coleman rushed for 544 yards. Team total 2,305 yards rushing; 49ers lost in Super Bowl LIV, 31-20.

2020 Minnesota Vikings (OC Gary Kubiak): Dalvin Cook rushed for 1,557 yards

2021 San Fransisco 49ers (HC Kyle Shanahan): Elijah Mitchell rushed for 963 yards with a team total of 2,166 yards.

Since 1995, with the exception of a few years, Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan, or Gary Kubiak coaching the offense has meant significant production out of the running game. These play-callers are offensive wizards. They turn teams that have subpar to bottom-dweller offensive production into the Houston Texans in 2009-2012, or the 49ers of 2019 to now. They are extremely effective at churning out rushing production and it shows.

This trend should continue in Miami. Many of these 1000-yard seasons that came from the Shanahan-Kubiak era did not come from running backs as talented as the ones Miami has on the roster today. Between Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, and Myles Gaskin expect a run-by-committee approach similar to that of the 49ers with fireworks in the run game.