Kyle Shanahan was asked a very simple question yesterday, but he gave a very confusing answer.
The question: “How much does having an elite defense change the way that you look at offensive play-calling? Are you more likely to play it safe because you know you’ve got a defense that could stop people, or do you still want to be aggressive or how do you break that down?”
The answer was a lot more complicated.
“I look at it as trying to win the game. What’s the best way to win the game? I think that’s stuff that I’ve definitely gotten better at and learned more at becoming a head coach as opposed to offensive play caller. And I did that for nine years before becoming a head coach. And you are so responsible for one thing, you don’t watch the other side of the ball, you really don’t even know what’s going on during the game. You’re just responsible to keep moving and trying to get points and that’s how you call it. And since becoming a head coach, I started out that way, but then you start to see how to win games a little bit better.
Our goal here was to build such a good defense. I thought we had that our third year and I remember coming out into that third year having a plan on really how I wanted to do it because of the defense that we thought and you learn from that and before you knew what we were, 8-0. And then I thought our offense had some games that we had to get going and had to be aggressive, but you try to decide that based on the outcome of the game.
I look at sometimes like the Chargers game or you got a chance to go, but there’s no way they’re beating us if we get those 40 runs. That’s how I feel the way our defense is playing. There comes a time in that New Orleans game when you can see your defense and we missed a couple there in the red zone where it’s like, alright, they score right here, it’s 13-7, I know exactly what we’re doing. We have to win this. We can’t give it back to them, one possession, but then we hold them again and you look at the clock and you think about where your team’s at and you’re like, what’s the best way to win this game? And that comes a lot clearer I think as you have to look at the whole big picture.”
It sounds like Kyle thinks he was too aggressive as an offensive coordinator and has since tempered that instinct since becoming a head coach. It’s only natural that your perspective changes when you take on bigger responsibilities, but I think there are times when the 49ers would be better off with a little more of that youthful aggression.
For what it’s worth, I do think that Kyle has started to creep back in the other direction lately. Twice on Sunday, Shanahan kept the offense on the field on fourth down instead of kicking a field goal. Against the Chargers in Week 10, Kyle also went for it on fourth down instead of turning to Robbie Gould. That might not sound like much, but I counted only three other instances in the other nine of the season where Kyle went for it fourth down that weren’t dictated by the game script.
As the level of competition for the 49ers rises in December and January, the game management decisions Kyle Shanahan makes will only get bigger. As fans, we want to understand how and why these decisions are made. Hopefully, this helped with that.
Hear more about this and other stories in today’s 49ers in Five podcast. Our five minute daily update gives you the latest news, best audio clips, and everything else you need to know about the team. Subscribe to the Niners Nation Podcast Network today so you don’t miss an episode!