Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

49ers Mailbag: Can Kyle Shanahan develop QBs? Was Mike McDaniel the secret sauce for the offense? What are the dimensions of an NFL end zone? (Asking for a friend)

Marc Adams
Sep 28, 2022 at 9:14 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers have fallen to 1-2, with the Los Angeles Rams coming to Levi's Stadium on Monday night. It's hard to predict what will happen in that game. You would think the Rams will destroy the struggling 49ers. But last year, we thought the same thing. Instead, the 49ers blew out the Rams and turned their season around.

Can history repeat itself? The 49ers' defense is as good as ever. The offense, on the other hand, has not been good. The offensive production has been reminiscent of the days when the 49ers hired defensive-minded head coaches like Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. This defense is Super Bowl-caliber. Right now, this offense isn't even NFL-caliber.

The 49ers can't blame anyone but themselves for their 1-2 start. They are much better than all three teams they've played and now they need to turn their season around, again, while playing the defending Super Bowl Champions.

We opened up the mailbag, and you came through with plenty of great questions. So let's get to it.

Is Kyle Shanahan bad at picking quarterbacks or developing them? - Daniel Shchyokin

Is Kyle Shanahan bad at picking quarterbacks? I think we need to wait and see how Trey Lance turns out. Certainly, Shanahan picked C.J. Beathard and he wasn't a good one. I've always heard that Shanahan, and his father Mike, weren't who wanted Robert Griffin III during their time in Washington. Supposedly that was a Dan Snyder pick. The Shanahans drafted Kirk Cousins later in that same draft.

However, who knows if there is any truth in that or not? Last year, the younger Shanahan told Rich Eisen, "I remember in Washington we already took RG3 and Kirk (Cousins) I ranked as the higher guy. Before we made that trade, I wanted to take him in the second round. My dad loved Russell Wilson and he planned on taking him in the fourth round.

"And then when we took Robert, he told me all along if Russell Wilson was there in the fourth round -- he was going to take him."

Things would have surely been different if Washington had drafted Russell Wilson. Maybe for Shanahan. Maybe for Washington. And likely for the 49ers, who wouldn't have lost so many games to Seattle.

So it's hard to say if Shanahan is bad at picking quarterbacks. Time will tell.

As far as developing quarterbacks, I think the jury is still out. Shanahan helped develop Cousins. But he really hasn't developed anyone else. Certainly, in all these years, Jimmy Garoppolo hasn't progressed. You can make the case that he sometimes looks as though he has regressed.

Yes, some QBs have had their best seasons under Shanahan, but that's likely more schematics than development. Again, how Lance develops will answer this question better than I ever could. Unfortunately, it will be more than a year before we know the answer due to his season-ending injury.

If the wheels come completely off, and the 49ers are 3-5 at the bye, would Shanahan sit Jimmy G and play Brock Purdy, if for no other reason than to avoid the weekly contract incentives Jimmy G could earn? - Niner Jim

I don't believe the 49ers will sit Garoppolo simply to avoid paying incentives. They will only sit Garoppolo if he no longer gives them the best chance to win.

Last season, Shanahan was close to sitting Garoppolo, before they turned the season around. But he had a rookie QB who needed to play and learn. He doesn't have that this season, unless he sees Brock Purdy as a potential starting quarterback, and future insurance should Lance not work out.

But again, I doubt we'll get to that place.

Brock Purdy, it's time. - Edgar Valdez

Right on, cue, Edgar.

No, I don't think it's time for Purdy to start over Garoppolo. For one thing, Purdy probably isn't ready. Also, at this moment, Garoppolo still gives the 49ers their best chance to win, though I do have to admit that I wonder if Purdy would have been any worse Sunday night.

Earlier this week, I wrote that if Garoppolo plays horribly on Monday, the fans at Levi's Stadium might start chanting, "We want Brock," much like the Candlestick fans chanted, "We want Carr" back in 2010. I don't think we're there yet, but things can change quickly.

What are the dimensions of an NFL end zone? (Asking for a friend). - Ryan Rees

This was the best question submitted. Well done, Ryan. I hope I can figure out how to use it in this mailbag title.

By the way, the dimensions are 10 yards long by 53 1⁄3 yards wide. Be sure to tell your friend.

Why do people blame mostly Shanahan for the loss when he clearly exploited Deebo's matchup 2-3 times and Jimmy simply overlooked him or overthrew him? I understand some critics of Kyle but his game plan usually depends on the run and he builds his play-action off it - and Denver took away the run immediately by loading the box. IMO if Jimmy did his job the 49ers would have had 24 at the half. - Ock Tom

Shanahan gets much of the blame for a few reasons:

  1. He's the one who picked the quarterbacks.
  2. Since acquiring Garoppolo in a midseason trade in 2017, Shanahan has not figured out how to help Garoppolo improve.
  3. At times, the coach's play-calling gets a little conservative and vanilla as the game progresses. Especially late, in tight games.

As for the Sunday night game, I've heard much more criticism of Garoppolo than I have of Shanahan. And it's deserving. Garoppolo was terrible Sunday night.

I've seen a ton of faithful saying Jimmy G should have been QB1 prior to Trey's injury so I'm curious to see the response after that horrible performance last night. The Niners lost that game because of Jimmy, without question. - Press'd Lowrecords

Yes, Garoppolo was horrible, but I usually never blame a single player, especially in a team sport like football. And while the offensive line was bad on Sunday night, Garoppolo was just too bad to shift blame elsewhere.

Sure there was the Jeff Wilson, Jr. fumble. There was the mishandled snap that most are blaming on Garoppolo (though it looked like it was on Brendel to me). I certainly did not think Ray-Ray McCloud was very good. The offensive line was abysmal. But Garoppolo was the worst of the bunch.

Why is it that nobody is talking about Kyle's decision to decline a penalty that would put Denver outside field goal range & allow them to kick a three-pointer? Talk about dumb decisions. - Daniel Cook

I have heard several people talk about it. And it's been split. Some say it was a bad decision, and that they should have moved the Broncos back, as you're saying. Others have said it was the right call.

I can go either way. If you're playing most of the other QBs in the NFL, you move them back. If it's Wilson or Patrick Mahomes, you gamble on the field goal attempt. I think after all the rabbits Wilson has pulled out of his hat against the 49ers over the years, Shanahan was probably trying to keep him from doing it again. If he had accepted the penalty, and Wilson pulled one of his magic tricks to get the first down, everyone would be saying he should have declined the penalty.

Is (former OC) Mike McDaniel the secret sauce that's always made Kyle look good? Or is this offense gonna figure it out and get back to putting some points on the board and moving the ball? Even the TD they did score should have been PI. - Torrey Means

McDaniel has his Miami Dolphins at 3-0 and has won some huge games so far, including a victory over the Buffalo Bills this past Sunday. He looks like he's going to be a star.

When McDaniel left San Francisco for Miami, the questions largely revolved around determining how big of a blow it would be to the 49ers. He had been with Shanahan for years and was his right-hand man. Now McDaniel is the head coach in Miami, and he's making that offense look like Dan Marino's 1984 offense.

Are the 49ers' current offensive struggles due to McDaniel's departure? Or is it just a coincidence, and things will level back out? It's too early to tell, but it's something I am keeping a close eye on because I, myself, wondered how big of a loss this would be.

When are the 49ers going to get themselves a dominant QB ???? Haven't had one since Steve Young and that was so long ago … My personal belief is that this is the only glaring hole on this team and no Jimmy G nor Trey Lance barring a miracle is the answer… the 49ers' approach to this QB situation for years now is and has been absolutely 100% horrible …one more thing: Shanahan needs to be fired. Enough of this guy and his poor decision-making… disagree with me or not this is my honest opinion … - Terrence Brennen

That's a lot to take in, Terrence. I don't agree that Shanahan needs to be fired. I'm willing to wait and see how things turn out this season, and even with Lance.

Speaking of Lance, it's way too early to label him as the answer or not the answer at QB. He may end up being one of the best. Or, he may end up being average, which would make him a bust considering all they gave up to draft him. However, it's simply too early to know that.

As far as why they can't find a dominant quarterback— well, those aren't easy to find. They're extremely rare. Like honest politicians. Or Bigfoot.

Why can't the Niners have a good QB? - Nicholas Elving

Well, they have had some good ones. Before my day, they had guys like John Brodie and Y.A. Tittle.

More recently, they had one Hall of Fame QB (Steve Young) replace another (Joe Montana). That's never been done before or since, although Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre will soon be in that class.

And after Young retired, Jeff Garcia took over. He was a good quarterback, playing in four Pro Bowls. Alex Smith was good, once Jim Harbaugh came along. Colin Kaepernick was good for a couple of seasons. Garoppolo has been good at times.

I think that we, as 49ers fans, get impatient because we're so passionate about our team, and were a little spoiled. Back-to-back Hall of Fame QBs and five Super Bowl titles have given us yearly expectations for the same, but we have such a great tradition, and the 49ers are considered one of the crown jewel franchises of the NFL. It's not like we're fans of the Jets, Lions, Bengals, or some of those teams who have never had what we have.

Last year, I wrote a story on why Roger Craig should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In writing that piece, I had the opportunity to speak with several 49ers legends, including former head coach George Seifert. After the interview, he asked if I grew up in the Bay Area, to which I told him I did not. So he asked how I became a fan of the team.

I told the coach I grew up in Houston, during the "Luv Ya Blue" days when the Houston Oilers were really good, and Earl Campbell was the NFL's best running back. But then my family moved away and the Oilers traded Campbell to the New Orleans Saints, the team whose fans wore paper bags over their heads and called their team "the 'Aints." So, as a little kid, I decided I needed a new team, and that whoever won the next Super Bowl would be my new favorite team.

Fortunately, the 49ers beat the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI, in January 1982. I told Seifert, "Thank you for winning that Super Bowl. I'd hate to have grown up a Bengals fan."

So you see? We have it good. Even if it may not currently be as good as we would like.

Do you think the team should be focused on the offensive line? - Jamel Johnson

I think they have been. They paid Trent Williams more than any tackle in football. They drafted Mike McGlinchey in the first round in 2018. Last year, they drafted Aaron Banks in the second round and Jaylon Moore in the fifth round. And this year, they drafted Spencer Burford in the fourth round and Nick Zakelj in the sixth round.

That means that, since 2018, they have traded for a future-Hall-of-Fame left tackle and have drafted an offensive lineman in the first, second, fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds. And that doesn't include signing free agent center Alex Mack last year. So they have addressed the offensive line.

Now if you're saying they should have done more, then that point can be made. The problem is that there is only so much money to spend. When you have the most expensive tackle in the game, you may not be able to spend as much on other positions along the offensive line.

And don't forget the other players they have signed or extended to big contracts, like Garoppolo, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Arik Armstead, Kyle Juszczyk, Fred Warner, and Charvarius Ward. That list doesn't even include DE Nick Bosa, who will soon be paid, or Dee Ford, who is no longer on the team.

They simply can't pay a premium at every position.

George Kittle only had 5 targets on Sunday night. He's a huge part of the offense, especially in the passing game. Why the limited usage of George Kittle? - Johnny Yang

Part of the issue was how the Broncos were playing Kittle and the 49ers. There were several snaps that I saw Kittle staying in as a blocker, especially later in the game when the team needed him to block more because the Broncos were bringing more pressure.

It does seem like a waste to have one of your best weapons in the passing game staying in to block, but that is sometimes a necessity.

Also, keep in mind that it was Kittle's first game back. He may not have been quite in game shape yet, and with the altitude in Denver, that can be an issue. And Garoppolo has looked rusty so far. I'm sure it will get better, but that part of the passing game wasn't clicking on Sunday night.

Can we hire a real offensive coordinator? Can we please promote DeMeco Ryans to head coach? - Daniel Shchyokin

Demeco Ryans will be a head coach this time next year. But it won't be in San Francisco.

For one thing, I'm still confident the 49ers will turn things around and get back on track. For another, Shanahan's tenure is tied to Lance's development, and at this point, there's no way to evaluate that. So I don't expect Shanahan will be going anywhere.

Thanks so much for your questions, and I apologize if I didn't get to yours.

We'll be back next week with another 49ers mailbag.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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