Kyle Shanahan’s reputation as an innovator and one of the better play designers and play callers is well-earned. From his time in Cleveland, Washington, Houston, and San Francisco, there are many examples of Shanahan’s offensive prowess.
When 49ers fans think about Shanahan’s best play calling games, there are many examples to choose from. How disrespectful was the NFC Championship game against Green Bay? Basically, Shanahan said: “We’re going to run it every time, and you can’t stop it.”
On Halloween night in 2019, Shanahan helped orchestrate what many people point to as one of Jimmy Garoppolo’s finest performances as a 49er in Arizona. Emmanuel Sanders was the newest addition, but it appeared he was a 49er veteran.
Maybe it was one of the 2022 games during Brock Purdy’s electric start to his career. The offense was explosive and efficient during Purdy’s run. Christian McCaffrey’s addition was a huge boost, no doubt. But Shanahan was as comfortable as ever as a play caller.
Gerald McCoy led the Carolina Panthers into Levi’s Stadium in 2019 and “wanted all the smoke.” When the smoke cleared, the 49ers laid a 50 burger on them, and Shanahan was laying the seeds with formations and play calls for a more important game.
While all of the possible games are worthy of consideration and selection, Shanahan shined the brightest on December 8, 2019. The shootout in the Superdome was essentially for the number one seed in the NFC. If the 49ers were going to turn skeptics into believers, a win in New Orleans would go a long way.
The 49ers’ defense was remarkable in 2019. You could set your watch to the defensive line wrecking games and keeping the team close. Well, that wasn’t the case in this game.
Drew Brees and Jared Cook had the Saints rolling early on, as they exploited a mismatch in the secondary, leading to an early first-quarter lead.
The second quarter was Shanahan’s playground. A deep shot to Sanders for 75 yards from Garoppolo brought the score to 20-14. Remember when I spoke about the Carolina game leaving the foundation for future play calls?
Deebo Samuel took an inside handoff off motion to score against Carolina, which left Carolina defenders looking at each other in disbelief. Fast-forward to the Superdome, and that same formation popped up. This time, it was a fake reverse and pass from Sanders to Raheem Mostert for a touchdown. New Orleans recognized the formation, and Shanahan pounced on their film study.
The game would go blow for blow until the final seconds. George Kittle sealed the game with his catch and run on the final drive while dragging Saints defenders like a piggyback ride. Robbie Gould clinched the victory with his right leg, and the 49ers left New Orleans with a 48-46 win.
Why is this Shanahan’s best game as a play caller? His defense struggled, the offense matched an explosive offense, and his team found a new way to win in 2019.
49ers fans are in for more “Kyle is in his bag” moments. As of now, the “Shootout in the Superdome” is still his finest moment.