During a conference call Monday with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, I asked him where he felt he could have been better as a play-caller and which plays stuck out to him now that he had a chance to re-watch the game. In a game where the 49ers left roughly 200 yards on the field, Shanahan reeled off five plays he felt cost the team an opportunity to score points.
Before he spoke about the plays, Kyle all but said the mistakes from the players are a product of coaching:
"Anytime a player makes a mistake; you look at it as yourself too. Your position coach, the coordinator, me as the play caller, what we put them through in practice, I thought we made way too many mistakes across the board, and that always, to me, starts with coaching. And it goes to the players, they're the ones who have to execute it, but we're the ones preparing them for that."
Let's review each of the plays Shanahan mentioned in the second half.
Play 1 - The fumbled snap
The first play Shanahan mentioned was the fumbled snap on the first series of the second half. It's 2nd & 8 from midfield. Jordan Mason had just run for seven yards. There's a running play called to the left. If the snap is on time, the 49ers have a numbers advantage, and Mason is left 1-on-1 with the safety:
Each defender to the left is accounted for. Trent Williams has Bradley Chubb blocked to the bottom of the screen. Jake Brendel is climbing to the second level and has an angle on the linebacker. Unfortunately, he didn't have the correct snap count, per Shanahan:
“Everyone went on one and Jake snapped it on two, so he was just a little late with the snap. I don’t know if that was the cadence out there. I haven’t gotten to talk to them yet, but just watching on tape, everybody went the other four o-linemen and the quarterback and Jake was just late to snap it, so that’s why they missed it.”
The offense squanders a promising drive, and it'd be all downhill from here, as this is where things began to spiral out of control.
Play 2 - The safety
The play that made Jimmy Garoppolo a meme ended up being the difference in the game. We've seen credible folks such as Brian Baldinger question the play-call, saying play-action is unheard of when you're backed up as the 49ers were.
I disagree. Shanahan goes to one of his patent play calls, "leak." This is the same play we saw Trey Lance overshoot Tyler Kroft in the first quarter of Week 1 on the first drive. The Niners are trying to get the ball to George Kittle on 2nd & 10. If they run the ball, people are complaining about wasting a down. The play was a disaster, but I wouldn't blame Kyle or Jimmy, honestly.
Credit goes to the Broncos. Their defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero spent the last five seasons going against a Sean McVay offense. He knew the 49ers' concepts, which showed in the second half. The Broncos were prepared to stop this play. They took away each of Jimmy's options, and that's why the play ended up the way it did.
Referencing the screenshot from above, each player in Jimmy's progression is covered. Ideally, he throws it over the head and out of bounds at George Kittle or Jeff Wilson Jr., but the pressure in his face forced Garoppolo to retreat and step out of the end zone.
Play 3 - Moore is less
Shanahan said, "the third series on that 2nd & 10, just had a real bad sack that got us to 3rd & 18." The 49ers love running this play below:
the best play in football right now: pic.twitter.com/YMRS2OXDwY— Seth Galina (@pff_seth) September 14, 2022
Off that run action, they'll run a backside slant or "drift" route. Again, credit Evero and the Broncos for knowing what the 49ers want to do in this situation. They walked a safety down in coverage to take away Brandon Aiyuk's route:
But the play never stood a chance as newly inserted left tackle Jaylon Moore overset — meaning, he has too much of his weight shifted to his outside, making him susceptible to any inside move:
Another drive in plus territory that's wasted, thanks to a miscue.
Play 4 - No toe drag swag
“On the fourth series, we had that second-and-10 after we had [WR] Ray-Ray [McCloud]’s good punt return and we’re on the 40 and we have a second-and-10 where we throw it to [WR] Jauan [Jennings] down the sideline. Got a real big chance for a big play to get in the red zone and we ended up not coming down clean with it, had a bust on protection, got Jimmy hit way too hard on it.”
This play involved one of Jimmy's best reps of the night. He bailed out one of his teammates, but Jennings couldn't pick the quarterback up by getting his feet down in bounds.
Let's look at the bust in protection. The 49ers have a "full slide" to the right. That means each lineman is blocking the man in the gap to their right, while Kyle Juszczyk, No. 44, handles the defensive end to our left. As you'll see below, everyone does what they're supposed to, except Moore:
If Moore looks inside immediately, he gets a hand on the blitzing linebacker, No. 47, and Aaron Banks has time to slow him down. Garoppolo does a fantastic job of standing tall in the pocket and giving his guy a chance, knowing he's going to get drilled.
Jauan has to catch the ball the first time. The bobble cost him a big play, but the blown protection cost the 49ers points.
Play 5 - Deebo vs. K'Waun
“And on the fifth series, just messing up a little bit in the protection to where we missed Deebo, who’s got [Denver Broncos DB] K’Waun [Williams] beat on that end break and route, which I think Deebo’s going to go to the house on it and we’re just not quite right in our protections and we’re a little off on the throw and that’s what gave them another opportunity for that big drive where they finally got the touchdown.”
It's 3rd & 3, and you have one of your best players on a defender you're all too familiar with. The root of the problem stems from another breakdown in pass protection. Denver blitzes, so they have five rushers. But San Francisco has six players staying in to block, so it shouldn't be an issue.
You wouldn't know the Niners had an extra blocker based on how the play shook out:
Let's focus on the right side and try to ignore Mike McGlinchey getting bowled over. You have a linebacker and a defensive tackle. You have a right guard and a fullback. In pass protection, you want your bigs to block their bigs and leave their littles for your littles.
Juszczyk goes to the linebacker. He's right. Burford gets an initial punch on the defensive tackle but leaves him and goes to the linebacker for whatever reason. That creates a free runner, and that's how we get an inaccurate pass and an incompletion.
Garoppolo could have thrown a better ball, as he has ample experience throwing off platform with the way this line looks at times. But it's tough to fault him too much here after seeing the pressure in his face.
The 49ers had miscues in every drive of the second half. Shanahan knows that starts with him:
"So you look at it through the whole course of a game where there's too much stuff going on like that. We have to make sure our guys are more consistent and give better chances in that way. And that always starts with me."
I'd imagine we see Brunskill inside at right guard to help alleviate some of the issues in pass protection. With Aaron Donald coming to town, the last thing you want is three inexperienced interior offensive linemen for the best player in the world to tee off against.
You can watch each play with my analysis below.