This article is my idea of what Kyle Shanahan, Nick Mullens, and the receiver corps would do to prepare for the upcoming game versus Tampa Bay. Although the Giants game seems so long ago, there’s some things that carry over from week to week with this group.
First thing I’ve noticed as the year has transpired is that our receivers are not the focal point of our offense. Kyle’s stance appears to be finding mismatches with the tight ends, mainly George Kittle, and the backs running routes. Our wide receivers, while they are running routes, I find them often clearing out areas of the field, or creating rubs on defenders covering Kittle, or Matt Brieda.
The second thing I’ve noticed is a lack of familiarity with all the moving pieces. Every week it’s a new group of receivers. The only mainstay has been Kendrick Bourne. This also rolls into quarterback play. We’ve shuffled through three quarterbacksthis season, and each has their own nuances, and preferences. During the season three to five days of walkthrough practices simply cannot be effective enough for them to really gel into a unit. It comes out on the film.
The third thing I’ve noticed is that no one can cover George Kittle -- he's basically open every game, all game when single covered. It’s not until teams start to give help that he’s taken away. I can see how the receivers won’t get much action when Kittle is going for easy catches over the middle.
Lets start with Nick Mullens. He’s been a great find, he throws well, has decent arm strength, and he protects the ball. He doesn’t take sacks, and is able to find the check down quickly. Where his play is affecting the wide receiver corp is his inability to be consistently accurate and his inability to see the second level. I’m not saying he can’t do it, we’ve seen him do it. We haven’t seen him do it play after play, drive after drive. Also his quick twitch style is a direct contrast to CJ Beathard who held the ball excessively.
First two clips, Pettis runs out routes, Mullens finds him but the throw is inside. A big no-no with quarterback play, never throw inside on an out-breaking route. The second one almost leads to an interception.
Inaccuracy on the bubble screen. It’s a quick pass, they’re hoping to catch the defense sleeping. However because of the throw Pettis has to first run away from the line to catch the pass, then spin around to try and make a play, by that time the defense has caught up.
Let’s talk about second level throws. At times, Mullens can do it. In our first clip, Kyle Juszczyk is open in the flat. Mullens however waits for Marquise Goodwin to come open at the second level and completes the deep in.
Our next three clips show the opposite. Bourne is open on this out breaking route. The DB that’s covering him is facing inside, there’s no way he will be able to pivot back out and catch Bourne. Mullens takes the checkdown.
Similar play design. First level is Kittle in the flat, second level Bourne on the out. Kittle’s defender has him blanketed, Bourne’s defender is playing deep third, and at least five yards off. Mullens takes Kittle instead.
This clip shows Pettis open on a crossing route. Even though there’s a defender in the area, he’s too shallow to cover a touch pass towards the open area. From the end zone angle Mullens is looking at Pettis, but he opts for the check down. There was some pressure off the edge which possibly rushed his decision.
Another opportunity for a deep pass that wasn’t taken. The idiom goes “if he’s even, he’s leavin,” This deep safety has no shot at stopping this deep route to Goodwin. He’s not back pedaling at all, he’s captivated by Kittle over the middle given Mullens’ tendencies to throw to him. Instead Mullens opts for a late throw to the outside, which is again inside instead of outside, and this one is picked.
Receivers are creatures of habit, they pick up on their QBs mannerisms and habits. This next clip is an example of how Mullens throwing short consistently can change a receivers effort. Now this is totally on Bourne, he should run every route like he’s getting the ball. Mullens takes the deep shot, but Bourne at height of this sprint stops, he probably thought, “Operation deep decoy completed.” Much to his surprise when he looks up, the ball is coming his way, but because he stopped sprinting the pass ends up overthrown.
I feel like a broken record, but we face yet another winnable game this week. If the running game and Kittle start working like it was in Week 10, expect a similar performance from our receiver corps. In the few instances the play call does require a little more from Mullens, let’s see if he can improve his out route accuracy, and if he’s willing to stick it out in the pocket a little longer for that second level throw. Go Niners!