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49ers’ Kyle Shanahan is Shrinking in the Spotlight

Gilbert Brink
Nov 16, 2020 at 7:33 AM

Enough Excuses. On Sunday, the 49ers suffered their 3rd straight blowout loss, dropping them to 4-6 and continuing their free-fall to irrelevancy. It was a game they could have won, the opportunities were there, but the 49ers just couldn't muster up more than 13 points of offense. Now, more than ever, the 49ers' 2020 season seems to be completely lost. While many look for a direction to point the finger, and there are a few obvious areas, start with the head coach.

Sure, there have been a plethora of injuries, but one side of the ball has been handling those injuries much better than the other. Robert Saleh's defensive unit has been depleted by the injury bug, losing Dee Ford, Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, Solomon Thomas, K'waun Williams, Jaquiski Tartt and other significant players throughout the course of the season. Yet, the 49ers are ranked 5th in overall defense and 10th in points allowed per game. Saleh has navigated all the challenges of this terrible 2020 and has still led the 49ers defense to being a legitimately good unit. Robert Saleh doesn't need excuses.

On the other side of the ball, the head football coach/offensive coordinator has suffered through a similar fate of having his roster ravaged by injuries. Unlike Saleh, 49ers play-caller Kyle Shanahan has wilted. The offensive genius has been nothing short of pedestrian in 2020. In the 49ers' 4 wins, the defense allowed an average of 11 points per game, setting the bar incredibly low for the Shanahan offense to limp over. In the 49ers' 6 losses, the offense averaged 19 points per game, which is equivalent to the #30 ranked offense in the entire NFL, and down 10 points from the 49ers' 2019 average. Overall, the 49ers rank 20th in points scored per game in 2020. In 2019, they were 2nd. Shanahan's drop off has been abysmal.

It's easy to pin the blame on injured players like Raheem Mostert, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Jimmy Garoppolo. It's hard to blame a coach for having a drop off when his best players are unavailable. The question has to be asked, though: is Kyle Shanahan as good as advertised? He is often spoke of as one of the very best play-callers in the game and an offensive guru. Yet, the play-calling has not been good and the offense has been much worse because of it. Injuries are a part of football, but the 49ers have one coach who has handled them well (Saleh) and one who has completely fallen apart because of them (Shanahan).

One of the hallmarks of a Shanahan offense is the ability to find a way to make star RBs out of postal workers. Kyle's father, Mike Shanahan, did this for years in Denver, and Kyle was following his lead as the 49ers found great success in two undrafted free agents, Matt Brieda and Raheem Mostert, in 2019. That magical Shanahan run game has disappeared. In 2020, the 49ers are averaging 3.8 yards per carry when Raheem Mostert isn't carrying the rock. What happened? Between Jerrick McKinnon, JaMycal Hasty, Jeff Wilson Jr. and Tevin Coleman, no one has taken that next step to become the new great Shanahan find. Wilson Jr. had a good game against the Patriots. Outside of that the 49ers have severely struggled in developing a run game. The once creative WR runs have become stagnant, which was on full display in the 49ers 27-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. The 49ers can't run the ball, and this offense doesn't work without a run game.

It isn't solely about the run game. In the pass-heavy NFL, Kyle Shanahan refuses to push the ball down the field. A lot of frustration that fans experience with Jimmy Garoppolo is centered around his unwillingness to throw the ball deep. Luckily, the fans have been treated to the Nick Mullens experience the past 2 weeks and it has been clear that the 49ers don't like to throw the ball past 15 yards. There were several occasions in Sunday's game where Shanahan chose to run a draw rather than taking a shot on 3rd and long. This is cowardly Kyle at his worse. It doesn't take a tape junky to tell you that passing the ball down the field in situations like these can have 4 outcomes, and they're almost all weighted to benefit the passing team. You could come down with a big catch, draw a defensive penalty which would give you the automatic first down, incomplete the pass or throw an interception (which a lot of times, serves as a somewhat mini-punt). Cowardly Kyle coaches afraid, and his fear holds back this team. It did in Super Bowl 54, and it does at 4-6.

The 49ers have a lot to think about in the offseason. Many fans want to pin this all on the quarterback position, imagining a scenario where a rookie QB would cure all that ills the 49ers offense. Looking for a shiny new car, the 49ers fans should be weary of what they wish for. Kyle Shanahan has proven to be a bad coach without QB Jimmy Garoppolo. This isn't opinion, this is factual information. With Jimmy Garoppolo starting, Kyle Shanahan's record is an impressive 24-7. When any other hand-picked Shanahan QB is behind center, the 49ers are 5-23. That level of failure is enough to get most coaches fired. Thankfully, Kyle Shanahan has had Garoppolo around to keep him afloat. Before the 49ers dump Garoppolo, GM John Lynch should have a real conversation with Shanahan about what a fresh start would mean for him and this organization. There is a chopping block in football, and usually the head coach, GM and QB are the first 3 in line. If Jimmy goes, the other 2 might not be far behind.
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.


  • Dan
    Hello Gilbert, I too as a Faithful Niner fan have been a bit "confused" over some of KS's situational play calling. If any of you would like examples I can give you several. Kyle will be with the Niner's for many years and for that I am grateful. We all make mistakes. Lets hope he has fewer mistakes. Thanks for artical
    Nov 18, 2020 at 11:18 AM
  • Kezar
    Finally , courage to talk about Kyle and the sub par coaching. Jed York is getting heartburn about the 'extension' . Super ego demanded an extension (after blowing a Super Bowl) . Likely to become a very serious mistake. Bay Area media is afraid to talk about the obvoius.
    Nov 17, 2020 at 3:43 PM
  • Keith
    For the love of God. I like kyle is not dumbfying his playback. He is like ok here u go, all u have to do is execute it. Its the qb job to swing help and the oline to protect. The team is not executing. None of the QBs can throw to open wrs, wrs dropping catchall balls, rbs going down every week, secondary players going down every week, oline has not been 100 percent all year, dline is so depleted that qbs have all the time they want to throw the ball unless the def blitz but then thats when they get hit with the big play cause the secondary is average.
    Nov 17, 2020 at 5:13 AM
  • Cameron
    One of the dumbest articles I've ever read. Placing the blame on Kyle and pretty much calling him a mediocre coach is straight up ignorance. The fact that the 49ers are 4-6 is a miracle. They've had an historical amount of injuries this year. They could easily. Be 2-8 right now.
    Nov 17, 2020 at 12:53 AM
    Response: The 49ers 4 wins Jets 0-9 Giants 3-7 Patriots 4-5 Rams 6-3 So 1 win against a winning team, what a miracle!!! Nothing Kyle loves more than an excuse
  • Bill
    Well, if the name of the game in journalism these days is "clicks," you win Mister Brink. I don't find too many people who agree with you, but I don't think that's the point. The point is "clicks." I just hope Kyle Shanahan isn't reading this because there are four or five teams who would literally jump at the chance to hire him away from us. One way to make him feel unwelcome is articles like this. Perhaps then we'll see the headline of: The 49ers Should Hire Kap as Head Coach? But, to be fair, I saw Lowell Cohn write articles like this. About Bill Walsh.
    Nov 16, 2020 at 3:09 PM
    Response: Didn't know the failing coach needed to be coddled by articles written about him.
  • Frank
    Here we go again. Last time I checked, Coach didn't commit the 4 turnovers the team had. Without them, they had a decent chance to win. Coaches can only do so much...the team looked well-prepared for the Saints game. It's up to the players to take care of the ball...they didn't. I seem to remember a number of games Shanahan has taken his share of the responsibility. I'd venture a guess that his players don't hold him responsible...they know he's got their backs. Despite the horrible luck the team's had, they still have plenty of fighting spirit, and that's a direct reflection of how they feel about their head coach. Nuff said.
    Nov 16, 2020 at 1:13 PM
    Response: From Super Bowl contenders to heaping praise upon "Fighting Spirit" This isn't Little Giants, no one cares about our fighting spirit.
  • John
    This the same dude who said the 49ers need to sign Kap. Lmao. You are ridiculous Gilbert. Kyle is fine. Bad year. Kyle deserves blame. So what? You don't get rid of him that would be asinine and stupid. Chip Kelly is a bad coach, Kyle is having a bad year. Great coach. I'm happy it's not up to you we would have Kap and Harbaugh back. Kyle and John have whiffed on picks they also have gotten some elite talent as well. You seem like your articles are just begging for clicks. You got me. Only time though I can't read this trash anymore. Peace.
    Nov 16, 2020 at 11:34 AM
    Response: Not once in the piece did I say they should get rid of Kyle. He just deserves to take more responsibility here.
  • Bob
    Did you watch the game? The OL literally whiffed over and over again. Tell me what a play caller is supposed to do when there are no running lanes, and no time to throw. New Orleans has a good D but our OL made their DL look like the 2019 49ers. Blame gets clicks but why not be honest. #cluelesswriting
    Nov 16, 2020 at 10:07 AM
    Response: So the o-line is playing poorly, why call a shotgun run play on 4th and 1?
  • Jordan
    Who allowed this nonsense article to be posted on here? Every amateur knows its 100x easier to play D than O. Read and react. Athletic traits. Jesus man. As for our offense which Shanahan should make a top unit. Starting QB Starting RB Backup RB WR1 Starting TE All out. Then look at the Oline. Richburg out. Garland out. We have our RG Brunskill playing center and Tom Compton who is awful playing RG. Last week Trent Williams was out and Skule gave up 3 sacks and was responsible for a INT and a fumble. Our Oline is a mess yet you think we should run the ball with a 3rd down back coming off 2 missed seasons and a UDFA 5th string RB??
    Nov 16, 2020 at 9:52 AM
  • Keven Evans
    This site has a content problem, either Captain Obvious or Negative Nancy. Nothing that is informative.
    Nov 16, 2020 at 9:21 AM
  • Paul
    A few complaints about the offense. I was really hoping they went for it on 4th and 1. They let rookie nickle corner Gardner-Johnson torment them all game without ever adjusting to him. Special teams were a bigger problem than anything else. Some excuses for the offense. The running backs have lost the starters, the original back ups, and are starting a 3rd down back that missed the prior two years. Kittle was a big part of the run game blocking. Everyone has to deal with injuries, but layers of injuries against the current top seed in the NFC is a lot to overcome. Everyone keeps talking about how good Tampa with Tom Brady is. Well the Saints dominated them twice. The 49ers actually played a better game than Tampa did last week. Jimmy G is the best hand-offer in the league, and he is out. Mullens is a gun slinger with a weak gun. He threw two picks around/in the end zone. Also, I'm typically not a person that cries about ref calls. The call on Street tackling Brees was horrible and led to a touchdown when the 49ers were leading. They should review helmet to helmet, and roughing the QB penalties. Too many games are impacted by penalties that aren't penalties.
    Nov 16, 2020 at 9:05 AM
  • Chris Walby
    I knew who wrote this piece as soon as I saw the "Headline" …. I stopped reading this guy's stuff a few weeks ago. Please go follow the Jets and start writing about them ...
    Nov 16, 2020 at 9:03 AM
  • Braa49er
    Susweel... is that you?
    Nov 16, 2020 at 8:23 AM
  • Mood Iindigo
    This is one pointless complaint of a article with the theme: why can't my awesome offensive-minded coach make chicken salad with chicken sh*t?
    Nov 16, 2020 at 8:04 AM
  • Rich
    With all due respect, this is a bad take. You are placing the blame on Kyle Shanahan without taking into account execution.The 49ers were supposed to be blown out in yesterday's game. They lost by 14 points and committed 4 turnovers. Have you witnessed the execution of the offensive line? You can't throw deep if you are getting hit on a three step drop. McKinnon, for all of his skill is not an every down back. We have to accept that the players we currently have available is not talented enough to beat other teams unless they play mistake free and execute their assignments. We lost by 14. Two muffed punts gave the Saints two scoring drives of less than 30 yards. It's hard to blame the coach on that.
    Nov 16, 2020 at 7:54 AM
    Response: Thanks for reading
  • Ed
    This article is a complete waste of 2 minutes. No intelligent person would expect a winning record when your'e missing half your starters.
    Nov 16, 2020 at 7:47 AM

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