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Shanahan: ‘You’re not going to get points if you move it and can’t score inside the 10’

The 49ers have struggled in the red zone all season, and that didn’t change Sunday night against the Chargers

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The 49ers' offense will string together a couple of drives during a game that makes them look unbeatable. But, then, they’ll have three drives in a row where they go three and out. This unit has lacked consistency all year, which is why they’re 14th in offensive success rate, 18th in points per drive, 19th in plays per drive, and 15th in drive success rate.

It was easy to point the finger at Jimmy Garoppolo or an underachieving offensive line in the past, but those two haven’t been the main culprits in recent weeks. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked if he sees his offense improving and if they’re headed in the right direction:

“Yeah, I see it every week. I saw we had the opportunity to do that yesterday. Not clicking, we got inside the 10-yard line five times and scored touchdowns on two of them, so I believe if we did on those other three, I feel we would’ve been clicking huge.

We would’ve had over 30 points, and things are going pretty good, so if you go to that game, I think we need to be better inside the 10, but there’s lots of things. I thought we were moving it great. I thought guys did a good job.

We added one new running back and we lost our leading rusher, so I don’t feel like we’ve added all these new guys. We brought in [RB] Christian [McCaffrey], and we lost [Miami Dolphins RB] Jeff [Wilson Jr.], and I’m real excited about having Christian here, but it’s not changing up a ton of stuff. We do what we do and I thought our guys did it a pretty high-level last night, but when you end up scoring only two times and you’re inside the ten five times, it’s tough to get more than 30 points.”

Sunday night, San Francisco had a 14, 9, 12, and 14 play drive. Moving the ball is far from the issue. The 49ers are 11th in yards per drive this season, per Football Outsiders. But when they get into the red zone, they’re scoring touchdowns at a 54 percent clip, which is 17th, one spot ahead of the Carolina Panthers.

Shanahan walked through the plays where he felt like there was a mistake:

“One, we had a dropped touchdown. Another, we had second-and-goal from the eight I thought we should have scored on a run. One, we through a bubble and I think we shouldn’t have, which got us in the third-and-goal from the eight, that was the one that we dropped. And at the very end of the game, I wanted to make sure they used that timeout. Probably would’ve a better chance of scoring if we threw it from the two there on third-and-goal from the two. I didn’t think that was worth the risk. I wanted to make sure regardless of what happened that they had no timeout, so that was the decision there, but I would say those three things.”

Here’s the dropped touchdown. Brandon Aiyuk runs a gorgeous route but forgets to do the most essential part of the play:

Aiyuk needs to use his hands on that play. Bad things happen when you let the ball get into your frame. More often than not, it’ll ricochet off your pads.

On the previous play, this is the look the 49ers got:

Deebo Samuel is in the backfield with Elijah Mitchell, who motions into the boundary. There are two plays on this RPO: A counter to Deebo or a swing route to Mitchell. The 49ers have five players to block four defenders on the counter. So, there’s an obvious numbers advantage.

But even if Jimmy Garoppolo is reading the edge defender to the bottom of the screen, it’s a misread. If the edge player crashes down into Deebo, then you throw the ball. But, as you can see, he doesn’t, and now San Francisco is at a disadvantage.

As for the final drive, where Shanahan elected to use his timeouts, I understand not throwing the ball in that situation. After thinking it through, I also get why you use Mitchell, someone with fresh legs, as opposed to McCaffrey, a player you want to keep as fresh as possible.

The refusal to go for it on fourth down was my issue. I would have forced the Chargers, who hadn’t moved the ball all half, to go 99 yards against my elite defense with no timeouts. It ended up working out, but the process will always trump results.

Shanahan lets the lack of execution from previous plays, and sometimes drives, cloud his judgment on fourth downs. For him, it comes down to everything:

“Yeah, there’ll always be a reason. There’s three times in there that we didn’t score, so it’d be a lot easier with film and the tape and to show you exactly, but when you ask like what’s going on with an offense, why we’re not clicking, that was the answer. I think it comes to points, I think when you’re over whatever we were on third down, which is 50% or something, I think that leads the league by a ton. I think we ran for 150 yards, I think we threw for 250. I’d love to have that turnover back that we had, but I do think there were a lot of things clicking, but you’re not going to get points if you move it and can’t score inside the 10, you’re not going to get enough points, that’s for sure, but if you want to go to a different game, I can answer those too, but usually, it’s hard to just put it in a sentence because it does come down to football plays. It comes down to how you execute them, how you do things, how you play, it’s everything.”

The 49ers converted 52 percent of their third downs against the Chargers. On the season, they’re fifth in the NFL at third down conversion percentage at 45 percent. The offenses ahead of them are Buffalo, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia — so San Francisco is sitting in elite company.

It’s clear as day that the offense is trending in the right direction. What’s preventing them from joining the best of the best is simple: Scoring touchdowns.

I’d like to see the team use their speed near the goal line. They ran it up the middle on 3rd & 2 against this look before kicking a field goal on the ensuing play:

The odds of you scoring are minimal, as you’re relying on your center to drive his guy into the end zone. That didn’t happen. Let’s see if, moving forward, Shanahan works the edges more near the goal line.