For a coach with a career record of 31-37 in his fifth year, Kyle Shanahan has faced a surprisingly small amount of criticism - until now. Before this season, fans and media alike largely understood the strange journey this franchise has been on since the good ship Shanahan set sail in 2017.
Now, however, the vultures are circling with the offense struggling and a team teetering on the brink of going under .500 for what would be the 44th week in this head coach’s 72-week tenure. So in today’s Gold Standard Podcast, we wondered how Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers would respond with his back against the wall.
In 2017, Garoppolo’s arrival ended the year on a high note. Jimmy’s torn ACL gave the team a pass in 2018. The Super Bowl run in 2019 left nothing to criticize, and a flood of injuries in 2020 kept the hounds at bay. And then the 2021 season began.
For the first time in his tenure, the torches and pitchforks are out for Kyle Shanahan. Critics have questioned both his off-field and on-field decisions. He chose to keep an expensive, injury-prone quarterback - and start him- over the player they mortgaged the future to take third overall in the draft. Other rookies drafted with premium picks haven’t even been deemed good enough to be active on game days.
On the field, the stream of turnovers hasn’t stopped. The injuries haven’t stopped. The offense has failed to score more than a touchdown in the first half of a game since Week 1. The defense leads the league in pass interference penalties. So now his 21-year-old rookie quarterback will likely make his first career start on the road, against an undefeated division rival, without the benefit of four previous weeks of experience as a starting quarterback.
How the Shanahan and the team respond? Will he throw caution to the wind and unleash an aggressive downfield passing attack that so many people have been clamoring for recently? Or will he go the opposite direction and try to protect Trey Lance with a heavy dose of the run game and short, safe passes? Beyond this week, will Kyle stick with Trey Lance or return to Jimmy Garoppolo?
We won’t know the answers to any of that until Sunday, but how Shanahan proceeds in this situation will define the 2021 season. This year will either see the 49ers competing to get into the playoffs in the NFC or languishing away in what would be the fourth double-digit loss season in five years under Kyle Shanahan.
You can hear our whole conversation in today’s Gold Standard Podcast, available anywhere you get your podcasts. If you could please take an extra minute to leave us a rating and a review, we’d be forever in your debt.