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Has the 49ers offense changed enough since Super Bowl LIV?

And if so, will we start to see those changes consistently?

I know the memories are painful to dredge up, but think back to Super Bowl LIV. With a lead in the fourth quarter and the defense reeling, the 49ers’ offense really needed to stem the tide. Points would have been great, but even a few first downs likely would have been enough to help the Niners get out of Dodge with a Super Bowl title. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

On today’s Gold Standard podcast with guest Steph Sanchez, we wondered how much the offense has changed in the two-plus years since that game.

During the week leading up to the Super Bowl, Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones answered, “1000%” when asked whether the plan was to take away the run and put the game on Jimmy Garoppolo’s shoulders. After the game, Frank Clark said the Chiefs knew they could stop the 49ers’ offense in crunch time because they only had to defend one part of the field.

As the Chiefs prepare to game plan for the 49ers this week, what do you think defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is saying? Probably the exact same thing he told the team three years ago.

So far, in 2022, things are looking largely the same. Garoppolo’s time to throw and average intended air yards are nearly identical to last year, and his average completed air yards are actually 1.6 yards lower this year than last year. Take a look at Garoppolo’s passing chart this year from NextGen Stats.

“[The offense] hasn’t changed much,” Sanchez said, “That’s mostly because I feel like Kyle Shanahan has a very specific offense that he calls with Jimmy Garoppolo...He doesn’t like to steer away from what he thinks Jimmy Garoppolo is good at. Which is fair, but I also feel like right now, Jimmy Garoppolo is playing well. Keep doing what has been working. He’s been a little bit better downfield than he has been in the past, so lean into that a little bit. Especially in this game when you know, you’re going to have to score a lot of points and move the ball - and quickly.”

Kyle Shanahan has said multiple times that his game plans are specifically designed for that particular week’s opponent, but it feels like that could be a semantical argument. While I’m sure Kyle puts together different formations and sequences every single week, it still feels those changes are all still geared toward getting the ball over the middle of the field within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Essentially, the 49ers may be sitting in a different pew every week, but they’re still going to the same church.

And Steph is correct. Garoppolo has been making tougher throws this season. For anyone that doesn’t know, Pro Football Focus has a statistic called Big Time Throw rate. They define big-time throws as passes with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further downfield and/or into a tighter window. So far this year, Jimmy’s Big Time Throw rate is 5.1%, which is actually higher than Patrick Mahomes’ 4.8%.

With Patrick Mahomes and company coming to town this weekend and a banged-up defense, the offense is going to have put up more points than the 18-20 they’ve been generating so far this season. What they’ve tried this year hasn’t been as successful as it has been in years past, so it’s incumbent upon Kyle Shanahan to make more than just cosmetic changes to the offense.

Luckily, the 49ers have the talent on the roster (and in the coaching staff) to do that. We’ve seen them adjust on the fly as recently as last season when Deebo Samuel became a wide back. That time has come once again. We’ll find out if Kyle Shanahan agrees on Sunday.

Other topics in today’s show

  • This team provides content, even when they don’t mean to (1:53)
  • Will Jim Harbaugh give a pregame speech? (4:51)
  • Why people have beef with Kyle Shanahan right now (6:32)
  • Does Jimmy Garoppolo deserve more trust from his head coach? (10:29)
  • Shanahan is under more pressure now than ever (15:09)
  • Let’s be clear: We don’t want to fire Kyle Shanahan (17:57)
  • Get ready for a lot of Super Bowl LIV highlights (19:01)
  • Is this offense the same as it was in 2019? (20:21)
  • Jimmy G. has actually been better at Mahomes in one area this year (22:12)
  • The Chiefs have their own issues in the fourth quarter (25:20)
  • One thing the defense must do better this week, regardless of who plays (30:32)