Kyle Shanahan hasn’t faced a ton of legitimate criticism since taking over as 49ers head coach, but after last weekend’s disappointing loss to the Falcons, some questions are being asked.
The 49ers play calling down the stretch seemed very conservative, and included a 16-play drive that gobbled up eight minutes and led to a turnover on downs with San Francisco down two scores. That led to a wild stat being dug up: Shanahan’s 49ers are 0-26 in the fourth quarter when trailing by four points.
49ers beat writer Dave Lombardi had some thoughts on both of those topics, but also didn’t think Kyle explanation for why the play calling was so conservative made much sense.
“Here’s the thing: I don’t think Kyle’s approach on that was congruent, because he said we didn’t want to panic, ‘we were only going to get two possessions,’” Lombardi said on Murph & Mac. “Well the third and fourth down play calls were all about panic at the end of that drive.
“If the 49ers are playing their brand of football and they’re not panicking and moving the ball down field as Kyle Shanahan said they were doing, they would’ve run a quarterback sneak or they would have run something basic up the middle on third and short to move the chains and move onto the next set of downs. Except they ran some weird pitch outside that just got blown up, didn’t work. Then on fourth down they don’t even line up under center. They abandon a true running threat on fourth and short, they line up in the shotgun, and that ended the game essentially. To me that was the ultimate panic call. So at least stay consistent on the play calling of that final drive.
“Zooming out I agree with you. I think the urgency should’ve started a lot sooner on that drive. Now that being said, Jake Brendel doesn’t get called for holding on the deep pass to Brandon Aiyuk, we’re looking at that drive a whole lot differently, because the 49ers are fairly that deep inside Atlanta territory with I think six or seven minutes left at that point. It’s that holding penalty that negated the schemed deep shot they had on that drive that did throw things off the rails.”
Overall, Lombardi believes that Shanahan doesn’t call deep shots nearly enough when trailing in games. Some of that probably has to do with the fact that Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t a skilled deep thrower of the football. But the alternative is a conservative approach that also isn’t working.
“You can also look at that and apply the criticism of Shanahan as an explainer for why they’re 0-26 in those situations, because they are so reliant on the one deep shot that he does scheme into drives like this when they are coming from behind to work, that if it doesn’t work they’re like ‘Well okay it’s going to take us 15 plays to get to where we would’ve been had that one deep shot worked,’” Lombardi said.
“I think the criticism and potential fix moving forward is a) they obviously have to execute and not get penalized on the plays they do take that shot downfield, but you add a bit more urgency, you add a bit more aggressiveness…You probably have to give yourself a few more chances to collect your base hit and the 49ers only gave themselves one chance on that drive and they went 0-for-1 because of the holding penalty. I do agree that more urgency and aggressiveness is needed.”
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