One of the talking points after the San Francisco 49ers letdown loss to the Atlanta Falcons has been what happened to the wide receivers? George Kittle had 17 targets, while the rest of the receivers combined for nine. Kyle Shanahan spoke on that topic Tuesday morning:
Seems like one of the hallmarks of the offense throughout the season has been the ability to spread the ball around and find a bunch of different pass catchers and get them going. What happened on Sunday that prevented you guys from spreading the ball around like you typically would?
“Yeah, it was more, I mean, some of the coverages they were playing. We wanted to go to George; we liked the matchups. They did a number of man coverage, and we didn’t feel like they were taking away George that much. When they do, you get to number two and stuff. I thought they did a real good job of progressing, so a lot of our concepts kind of turned into a; they did a good job rushing, which makes it tough to progress to number two and number three, which makes it a one-man show a lot. It was more everybody. George got most of the play calls and stuff. The other guys did too, but they had some bad luck on it. When things were good, we had a couple drops. When it wasn’t that, it might have been a protection issue. Usually, it’s not like that. We don’t always want it to be like that, but we also don’t mind if we get the win done. We thought we had a chance to, but that wasn’t why we lost.”
In New Orleans, you pulled out a double-reverse receiver pass, a read-option from a fullback. How conscious were you trying to be conservative in this game, whether it be keeping guys healthy or--?
“It’s never about keeping guys, I mean, you keep guys healthy because you don’t want guys to get hurt, but that game was everything in my mind. It felt that way all week. You call plays based off of what you think it takes to win. The plays you’re talking about that, we probably saw a record of them, and the New Orleans game seemed pretty important to pull those off to win. Definitely didn’t feel as strongly about that during the Atlanta game, especially when we have a 19-10 lead with eight minutes to go. I don’t feel the need to be as aggressive on some of those things. I think we did what we needed to do to win, but we obviously didn’t get it done.”
Deebo Samuel’s drop was another “focus drop” where he’s running before he has the ball secured. Samuel has the most drops in the NFL at ten, and his drop rate is 17.2%. Having charted drops, you’d like to be between around 9%. So yeah, that’s not great. Deebo’s glove wasn’t even on when he dropped the ball. With that said, the 49ers’ best offensive performances from a DVOA standpoint have happened when Samuel is involved the most. The drops are frustrating, but the offense needs to find a way to get the ball in his hands.
Here is Jimmy Garoppolo on the topic:
Most of the passes you threw to TE George Kittle were completed, so that was good. And if you win, then it’s great, but if you lose, then it’s like, why didn’t you throw to the wide receivers? What was going on? Was there a function of what they were doing defensively that everything was kind of getting funneled to George?
“Yeah, when the play’s called, I just try to get it to the most open receiver. When it’s man-to-man, finding the best matchup and things like that. George did a great job of getting open. When his number was called, he answered the bell. It could be zone when you’re just trying to find the soft spot in it. It could be matchups when it’s man-to-man. There’s a number of variables to it.”
So, they were largely just going man with George?
“Yeah, and we liked the matchup, and he did a great job.”
Is that unusual?
“To like the matchup? Or for them to go, man? I was going to say, I usually like the matchup with George. Yeah, we knew they did that going into it. They played a little more than we expected, I would say, but it wasn’t anything crazy.”
If you know the defense is in man coverage, you’re probably going to throw it to your best player. I’m a big believer in getting it to your best player until the defense forces you to do something else. Because San Francisco lost, we’re talking about this. Again, if Kittle doesn’t fumble the ball, or the team doesn’t make the mistakes they did that kept Atlanta in the game, we’re not nitpicking.