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It wouldn’t be going out on a limb to say that San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is known around the league for his creative schemes and innovative play calling. However, while Shanahan’s units have traditionally been prolific at moving the football, they haven’t been as dynamic as you’d think when it comes to putting points on the board.
In his 11 years calling plays as an offensive coordinator or head coach, Shanahan’s offenses have finished in the top 10 in yards gained six times, and lower than 18th only once. In terms of points scored, they’ve finished in the top 10 on just three occasions and 20th or lower seven times.
During Shanahan’s stint in San Francisco, the Niners have been in the middle of the pack yards wise, finishing 12th in 2017 and 16th in 2018. Despite moving the ball at a decent rate, they haven’t quite been able to capitalize, ranking 20th and 21st respectively in points scored.
One of the reasons for the lack of scoring the last two years has been red-zone proficiency, as the team ranked 27th in 2017 at 47.1% and last in 2018 at 41.2%. Turnovers have also been a problem during that time as 49ers’ quarterbacks have combined to throw 35 total interceptions.
How can Shanahan and the 49ers remedy these issues? The answers could already be in place.
Despite the inconsistent numbers in terms of points, Shanahan has proved when he has the right pieces it can all click. It happened with Matt Ryan and company in Atlanta, and, despite a small sample size, it looks like it could be headed that way again with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo set to return.
With Garoppolo behind center, Shanahan’s offense is on a different level. In his eight starts, the 49ers have averaged 27.1 points per game and scored 25 points or more six times. With Brian Hoyer, C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens, the average plummets to 19 per game and they’ve scored 25 or more just seven times in 24 games.
Still, even though the Garoppolo led attack has provided more punch, it’s still struggled in the red zone. The 49ers scored 11 touchdowns in 24 red-zone tries in 2017 (45.8%) and 5-of-12 in 2018 (41.6%) with it’s franchise signal caller. Overall that’s a 44.4% conversation rate which is fairly consistent with how the team’s done as a whole.
The 49ers seemed to have recognized this issue and spent the offseason adding pieces that should be able to help in the red-zone. Running back Tevin Coleman played for Shanahan in 2015-16 with the Falcons, and the free agent addition brings his 29 career touchdowns with him to the Bay. That total is more than any other 49ers player.
At wide receiver, second-round draft pick Deebo Samuel plays with a physical style that the team has lacked recently, and third-round selection Jalen Hurd and his 6-foot-4 frame adds much needed size to the position. Both could be immediate upgrades in the red zone.
Shanahan must also find a way to clean up the pass protection. The San Francisco offensive line allowed 125 quarterback hits in 2018, which was second worst in the league. Garoppolo himself was hit 22 times in three games and sacked 13. With pressure comes turnovers, and that certainly played a part in his interception total.
While the Niners appear to be bringing the same offensive line, a healthy Weston Richburg could make a difference for an interior that’s struggled overall. Richburg battled injuries for most of last season and wasn’t the player most hoped for after he signed a lucrative free agent contract.
Tackle Mike McGlinchey also looks to take a jump after a solid rookie campaign, and it’s fair to think his overall game will improve. With Richburg back to full strength and McGlinchey continuing to grow, the result could be a ripple effect on the entire line.
As the 49ers enter the pivotal third year of the Shanahan regime, whether or not they can capitalize on opportunities will go a long way in deciding if this team is ready to compete for the playoffs, or if they’ll still be searching for answers come year four.