At 2-3, the 49ers season is at a crossroads. There is still plenty of time to turn things around and make the playoffs this year, but another loss this week against the Colts would be four in a row and tilts the season towards oblivion.
For the first time last week, Kyle Shanahan faced honest criticism from a fan base that has been very patient with him since he was hired in 2017. In today’s 49ers in Five podcast, we listened to a clip of Ross Tucker on 95.7 The Game when he was asked whether he lost faith in Kyle Shanahan:
“I think a little bit. I think you’d be kidding yourself if you felt otherwise. Everyone respects Kyle Shanahan’s offensive acumen...but as a head coach ultimately you’re judged by wins and losses, and they don’t have enough wins. Now the Niners are in a tough spot. They get Jimmy G. back, he’ll probably be rusty after missing a couple weeks, No Kittle. They’re playing a Colts team that’s playing really well, and the Niners aren’t. I’ll take those three and a half points [by which the 49ers are favored]. I think it’s a toss up game and wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Colts win that game.”
Ross is right when he says most people probably at least have some creeping doubts about Shanahan by this point. What gives me solace is the fact that Kyle didn’t suddenly forget how to be a great play-caller. He didn’t just forget a bunch of football this offseason. Everything that made him one of the most sought-after head coaching candidates is still there. His issues have been mostly management errors.
He should never have allowed Jimmy Garoppolo to start the season on the roster. He should never have frozen Brandon Aiyuk out of the offense. He should never have tried to establish the narrative that Aiyuk’s lack of targets was about the injury when he was also using him as a punt returner. However, almost all of those issues are correctable (save for moving Garoppolo at this point in the year). If Kyle can admit his mistakes and adapt going forward, I think the offense will be just fine.
Speaking of that offense, former 49ers safety Donte Whitner appeared on KNBR and had a specific idea of what we’ll see from that offense this week.
“I think they’ll go back to basics. They’ll go back to their running package. They’ll go back to their throwback screens. They’ll go back to the play-action RPO game, and then rely on the defense. That’s what they’re going to have to do at this point. Jimmy Garoppolo, this is your opportunity to come off of the injury list and show that you can string some wins together.”
I don’t know if I necessarily agree that going back to basics in an offense that the team has admitted is already watered down is the answer, but they’ve definitely got to do something. San Francisco hasn’t scored more than seven points in the first half of a game since Week 1 against the Lions.
The first game after the bye week will be a real test of Kyle Shanahan’s ability to self-scout and adjust accordingly. If he fails that test, his team will be headed down a road that has gotten all too familiar during his tenure.