The 49ers Sink In The Cyclone

By Jamie Garwood

The 49ers are two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance where – if it was not for a third down conversion here, or a stop there – the Bay Area might have been celebrating a sixth Lombardi trophy. But while Kyle Shanahan’s missteps in Atlanta’s capitulation to New England following their infamous 28-3 lead has been well documented, his work in San Francisco has gone largely unquestioned. 

Now, after 2-4 start, the most recent defeat coming versus the now 3-4 Indianapolis Colts in a cyclone, questions have to be asked about Shanahan and his off-field management of the team – not to mention concerns regarding his game management.

Credit: USA Today Sports

Losing to a team of your equal is forgivable, as is losing playing in the elements such as those faced by both sides on Sunday night. Yet the Colts – a team on the road that plays home games in a dome, that have been mired by false starts and rebuilds – dealt with the climate a lot better on a wet and windy evening in Santa Clara.

In a game dominated by both sides’ running attacks, Jimmy Garoppolo had two interceptions and a QBR rating of 7.8. In contrast, Carson Wentz had one INT but a sturdier rating of 82.8 – along with a clever bootleg rushing TD to give the Colts a 13-12 lead before the half. This was a lead they did not surrender. 

The 49ers were guilty of four turnovers. No team can win a game on a diet of that many takeaways. They only had the ball for 26:05 minutes, giving up more possession to a Colts team that had the better running back on the field in Jonathan Taylor – 18 carries, 107 yards.

The Aftermath

Credit: Robert Scheer (IndyStar)

Postgame, Shanahan was non-committal on keeping Jimmy G as the starting quarterback, with a trip to Chicago on the slate for next week. Trey Lance, the #3 overall pick selected by the 49ers in this year’s draft, was inactive for this game; a strained left knee in the defeat to the Cardinals before two weeks prior sidelining the QB of the future. The date for Lance’s return is not known, meaning Jimmy G has an as yet unknown opportunity to lead this offense. But the problems on the field creatively have hit a roadblock…

A woeful record of 1-11 on third down y the offense was only matched for ineptitude by a self-destuctive secondary, giving up big players and committing five pass interference penalties – a stat they lead the league in with 11 on the season. A team coming out of the bye showed a good early game script with 78 yards from 8 plays (57 yards to Elijah Mitchell; two Jimmy G passes), giving them an early lead. Yet after recovering a Colts fumble in red zone which led to a Joey Slye field goal for a 9-0 lead, the 49ers stalled; 7 consecutive possessions brought 6 three and outs (the other drive finished with a kneel to end half) for a paltry 34 accumulated total yards. Not what you expect of any Shanahan coached offense.

Shanahan is a great creative mind in play calling, but his handling of the Lance/Jimmy G dilemma is a story that has hung over him since the trade was made. Plugging Lance in during the first game for that first TD pass perhaps did not help the narrative. Yet they’ve stuck with Jimmy G for the main, a player with a long injury history who never looks 100 per cent healthy – and despite being servicable when on the field ha a penchant for crippling turnovers (four in his last three starts).

Credit: Getty Images

As ever with the NFL, a head coach has to build around their own philoophy. You have to make sure you have a roster fit for your scheme with a handful of game-changers. Shanahan has these pieces, despite injuries; See Deebo Samuel – 7 receptions, 100 yards and a TD , and Elijah Mitchell – 107 yards on 18 carries. Yet both have missed gametime this season,  and despite being replaced with other talents such as Trey Sermon and Brandon Aiyuk, consistency has suffered. The 49ers are on a four game skid following a 2-0 start versus Detroit and the Eagles – teams you could argue are in rebuild mode. Shanahan seems to preside over a roster that has come unstuck against better opponents.

Competing in the tough NFC West, playoff aspirations have all but disappeared. The 49ers won’t find it any easier in the next three weeks, where they play both divisional rivals the Cardinals (7-0) and Rams (6-1). Both these games look tough outs, even if San Fran do get something of a tune-up game against The Bears beforehand.

Perhaps the plan was to draft Trey Lance and have him behind Jimmy G – either until the season is over or a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ occurs – but the injury to their rookie throws a curveball. Perhaps a recuperated Trey will light up the bay – there are after all still winnable games on the schedule in the Jaguars, Texans, Falcons and Seahawks. But for all the excuses Shanahan has at his disposal – a depleted roster, no George Kittle, a leaky defense and a tough division – a good coach does well with the situation he is dealt. Contextually, now is the time for Shanahan to deliver as the genius he is claimed to be.



Jamie is a freelance writer of original NFL content on all matters ranging from fantasy football to bold predictions, and is an avid New England Patriots fan. Follow him @JamieGarwood For NFL takes.