This week in 49ers land, the discussion about Kyle Shanahan has shifted from being mildly disappointed in him and wanting more out of the offense to calling for his job. My gripe with Shanahan has been his mismanagement of specific players and stubbornness in general.
Today, I’ll highlight six (eight, really) plays where the 49ers’ offense received the look they wanted from the defense but failed to execute. You can’t blame Shanahan for that. The play-calling has gone through spells where there’s a lack of creativity. But, overall, especially against the Colts, Shanahan is still Shanahan.
On each of the eight plays, you could argue if San Francisco does what they’re supposed to, it’s a touchdown or, at worst, an explosive play.
Here’s the full video, starting at the 4:34 mark with Jimmy Garoppolo’s inaccurate throw to Trent Sherfield that forced a punt:
The difference between how both quarterbacks threw the ball during this game was that Jimmy tried to aim it/baby the throw to the receiver while Carson Wentz just let it rip. By “babying” the throw in there, your accuracy suffers from trying to be too perfect.
So, while the weather played a vital role in the outcome for several plays Sunday night, the mistakes highlighted have shown up all season. The 49ers had already thrown for a first down on the play above to Deebo Samuel. Shanahan comes back to it later in the quarter, only for the quarterback to miss the throw. You can’t blame the play-caller for that.
At the seven-minute mark of the video, I walk through Deebo’s drop on a screen that is likely a 30-yard gain at worst.
The 49ers couldn’t have asked for a better look on this play. They outnumbered the Colts to the play-side 5 to 4, and that’s without counting Samuel, who was the intended receiver. That also ignores one safety 20 yards down the field and one defender that was 300 pounds. If Deebo catches the ball, he might still be running.
This was a gut-wrenching drop as the 49ers ended up punting on this possession. You can’t blame Kyle or Jimmy on this play. Again, the rain played a factor, but you expect Samuel to catch this pass. It looks as though Samuel either peeked up and saw DeForest Buckner or was running before he had the ball. Either way, the missed opportunity, and drop were the story.
Third downs were the name of the game
By now, you’re aware the 49ers went 1-for-11 on third downs. So what’s the best way to convert a third down? Don’t have one at all. The Niners marched eight plays for 78 yards and a touchdown in just under five minutes during the first drive. Yet, they didn’t have one third down on the drive.
The 49ers needed five or more yards on seven of 11 third downs. The fault came at the hands of the players when you review most of the third downs. Penalties, drops missed blocks, and errant throws all played a factor.
I suppose since we’re pointing fingers that you could blame the head coach when there are miscues on back-to-back plays. After Deebo dropped the screen pass, Garoppolo misfired an out route to Ross Dwelley on third down from a clean pocket (8:20).
Dwelley sets Darius Leonard up with a hesitation move and creates a couple of yards of separation, finding himself open beyond the first down marker. Unfortuantely, the throw gets away from Garoppolo, and the offense has to punt.
Dwelley was primarily used as the pass-catching tight end during this game, and he showed why above. Shanahan draws up a play that gets his tight end 1-on-1 with room to catch and an opportunity to run after.
We are not complaining about Shanahan if the offense connects on these plays.
Jimmy’s first interception wasn’t his fault
I’m a fan of telling it how it is. There are enough plays in this game to be upset with Garoppolo about. The first interception he threw is not one of them. I’ve heard people say he stared down his first read. Others have mentioned Garoppolo missed a “wide open” Mohamed Sanu. That’s not how football works.
If you want to focus on the result, the ball bounces off the chest of Samuel and into the defenders’ hands for an interception.
If you’re more interested in the process, it’s third down. The goal on third down is to get your best receiver isolated in a 1-on-1 matchup. Shanahan runs a trips formation into the boundary. By doing this, he ensures Samuel has a half field to work with where no defender can help. By design, the play is already a win.
I’m not too fond of the idea of running a static route like a curl route when you have an athlete like Samuel. My other qualm would be running a curl route against a cornerback that’s in press coverage. You’d generally want your wideout to convert that into a deep route. But, again, the conditions and what have you.
Back to the route, Deebo creates enough separation for this play to work. Had he extended his arms and tried to catch the ball with his hands instead of catching the ball with his body, then it’s a first down. But, instead, Samuel tries to make a basket catch, and it backfires.
We’ve seen Samuel be aggressive with his hands in similar situations the last time the 49ers were on primetime against the Packers. Samuel electing to use his body instead of his hands is a result of the conditions.
You can’t blame Jimmy for this throw. You take your 1-on-1 matchup on third down every day of the week. You want to throw it to your best player. Part of playing quarterback is winning before the ball is snapped. Garoppolo does that here. This isn’t on the quarterback or the head coach.
I also talk about the deep pass to Brandon Aiyuk that would have been a walk-in touchdown had Dwelley not held, and Garoppolo stepped up in the pocket. There’s also a throw where Jimmy misses those sneaky underneath linebackers.
We can be critical of Kyle. We should be. When you lose four games in a row, something is going wrong. We’ll talk more about this later, but the Colts are a team that is good at punching up. They shouldn’t beat you.
The point remains that this was a team loss. It wasn’t on one person. After rewatching some of the offensive plays, it certainly wasn’t only on Shanahan.