Niners OT: Shanahan is 'next-level genius' play caller

Featuring a pair of offensive masterminds in a West Coast matchup that dates back to the 1940s, the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers are shaping up as the NFL's next great rivalry.

While reigning NFL Coach of the Year Sean McVay is being heralded as the mastermind of the moment, it wasn't long ago that Kyle Shanahan was accepting similar laurels.

After steering Jimmy Garoppolo to a 5-0 record down the stretch last season, Shanahan has the full confidence of his locker room.

In fact, the Niners head coach is "next-level genius" as a play caller and play designer, Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley attested Thursday on The Rich Eisen Show.

"I've never been around a play caller like him as far as the Xs and Os and just completely understanding how every single piece fits together," Staley explained. "With him, he doesn't just have mastery of the run game or the passing game or the screen or the draw. I mean, he has a complete understanding of everything.

"And not only what we're trying to do schematically, but how it fits and how every single person on the football field has a job and the play has to be set up in a certain way -- the way he calls the play in the game to set up something in maybe the third, fourth quarter down the road and how the defense is attacking. He's like next-level genius stuff that I've never really been around. It's really, really exciting as a player to be around a guy like that that you just have full, full confidence every single time you're on the field that this is the exact right play call that we need in this situation."

To put Staley's praise into perspective, he has been in San Francisco for more than a decade, soaking in game plans from respected offensive minds such as Mike Martz, Jimmy Raye, Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh.

Journeyman quarterback Brian Hoyer has pointed to similarities between Shanahan and Patriots legend Bill Belichick for their perfectionism, relentlessness and a consuming obsession with football.

In the lead-up to Super Bowl LI, Belichick noted that Shanahan's offenses called to mind those of Mike Shanahan, Kyle's father, whom Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young once hailed as "the greatest play caller."

The younger Shanahan is building quite the résumé of his own. Before his impressive work with Garoppolo last season, he guided Matt Ryan to the 2016 MVP award, orchestrated Robert Griffin III's electrifying 2012 Rookie of the Year campaign, and turned Matt Schaub into a Pro Bowl MVP.

"Kyle is the best offensive coordinator. He's the best play designer," former NFL quarterback and current NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms opined during the Falcons' 2016 Super Bowl run. "He's the most creative offensive schemer in the game right now, and that's saying a lot."

It's saying a lot because Shanahan faces stiff competition from the likes of McVay, Saints coach Sean Payton, Eagles leader Doug Pederson, Chiefs wizard Andy Reid and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

As NFL offenses continue to grow more sophisticated with each passing year, the NFC West is fortunate to claim two of the league's most innovative tacticians.

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