SANTA CLARA – What’s exciting about this team is not only their three-game win streak, but the process of growth the team is going through. Players like wide receiver Marquise Goodwin and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon are getting better right before our eyes.
The other guy who’s getting better? Kyle Shanahan.
As the 49ers head coach and offensive play caller, Shanahan was legitimately criticized for calling way too many run plays early in the season. But that changed Sunday in his team’s thrilling 25-23 win at Levi’s, Shanahan stayed with an ineffective run game to protect his new quarterback.
The 49ers ran it 22 times for a total of 51 yards for an average of only 2.3 yards per carry. But those runs kept the play-action game alive for Jimmy Garoppolo and it gave him a break from being completely pummeled from the Titans constant blitzes.
“I want to say they blitzed us more today than, I want to say, (more) than I’ve ever been blitzed in my career and definitely more than I’ve seen on tape from them,” Shanahan said.
Whether teams blitz or not, early in the season Shanahan continued to call passes and often got his quarterback ground down into a fine paste.
But in this game, Shanahan stuck with an ineffective run game in order to preserve his prized quarterback. Calling plays he knows won’t succeed has to go against every corpusule in Shanahan’s being. Yet Shanahan did that Sunday and his offense, particularly his quarterback appreciated it greatly.
“Even when you’re not running it well, if you have confidence in how you’re going to do it on third down and things like that, you still try your hardest to stick with it, which is a challenge for a play caller,” Shanahan said. It’s a challenge he failed earlier in the year frankly.
But those runs provided Garoppolo a respite and kept him from being a bloody mess. Garoppolo as it was, threw it plenty – 43 times for a whopping 381 yards. Yet that wasn’t absurd because the 49ers ran a couple of two-minute drills at the end of the game when all they did was throw.
“We always try to be 50-50 in normal situations with first and second down, and non-second and long, and non-two minute situations,” Shanahan said. “That’s always our goal and whether you’re doing it good or not, that’s the goal because it helps everyone. Not just the quarterback, but the offensive line. It gets the receivers some better looks.”
That was certainly the case on Sunday. With the run threat, Garoppolo found nine different receivers but was sacked just three times. Forcing the run might have actually won the 49ers the game.
“You try your hardest because if you become one dimensional verse any team in this league it makes it very difficult,” Shanhan said.
In this game Shanahan grew up and passed his own test. Good for him.