Kyle Shanahan’s still the right man for the job, but his coaching has been lackluster in 2021.
As the 2020 season ended in Arizona, I thought the 49ers had the best man for the head-coaching job. But, instead, the injury-riddled team was kicked out of their home county and played out of their suitcases in Phoenix for the last month of the season. The 2020 49ers consistently played with effort, looked well-coached, but just lacked talent at key spots to overcome some mistakes.
While there were a ton of free agents and questions surrounding the quarterback position, the 49ers’ front office was able to get the majority of the free agents to buy back in for this season to make another run towards the Super Bowl.
John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan provided themselves some insurance at the quarterback spot by drafting rookie Trey Lance and believed that they could be a win-now team with Garoppolo at the helm while bringing along a more talented, physically gifted player at the position for the future.
Back in March, it sounded great on paper. The 49ers worked some salary cap magic to bring the band back together while adding an exciting rookie quarterback who flashed huge potential at North Dakota State.
What could go wrong with this plan?
Through six games, this is the most rudderless that the 49ers have looked under Kyle Shanahan. The offense has no identity on the field. Instead, they have fantastic stretches of play where they look unstoppable, then follow it up with penalties, turnovers, and unforced errors. It’s a team that looks like they’re out of answers after losing four straight, including three of four at home.
Defensively, this is about what I expected from DeMeco Ryans and Co. They’re middle-of-the-pack, with a pass rush that’s dominant for stretches but held back by a secondary that can’t seem to stop committing huge pass-interference penalties.
Ultimately the 49ers sit at 2-4 because they lack a true identity on the field.
Are they going to play top-notch defense, run the ball and play complimentary offense? I don’t think their defense is consistent enough for that in 2021.
Are they going to be an offensive-led team that can play complimentary defense and create timely takeaways? That might’ve been the initial plan, but it hasn’t materialized just quite yet.
It seemed like Kyle Shanahan, and John Lynch tried to re-create 2019 this season, but that season was truly once-in-a-generation magical. A fourth-place schedule, one of the decade’s best defenses, talent littered all over the field, and a rushing attack that took the pressure off of Jimmy Garoppolo.
Instead, they should’ve either decided to go all in and make a trade for a veteran quarterback (a la Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson) or push all their chips into Trey Lance and developing him in 2021.
Shanahan’s play-calling rhythm seems to be as bad as it’s ever been with the 49ers; the offense is mainly absent for large stretches of games, and the locker room leaders look puzzled during every post-game press conference.
Beyond the play-calling, I think Shanahan’s overall coaching has been underwhelming. A good sign of a disciplined team is turnovers and penalties. 49ers are near the bottom of the NFL in both categories, and it stems from a lack of focus and attention to detail during the week.
The weekly personnel decisions are starting to become baffling. Brandon Aiyuk only had one target on Sunday while botching a punt return that resulted in a touchback. Rookie standout corner Deommodore Lenoir was inactive on Sunday, and other rookies Trey Sermon, Aaron Banks, and Ambry Thomas can’t find the field on game days.
All the buttons that Lynch and Shanahan are pushing weekly aren’t clicking right now, and it’s resulting in losses on Sundays, with the worst coming on Sunday Night Football against the Colts.
With this being said, I don’t think Shanahan’s on the hot seat or should be relieved of his duties after the season. I still think he’s a fantastic offensive play-caller and one of the better leaders in the head-coaching ranks.
He still has a lot to improve upon if he hopes to turn the 49ers into a perennial contender that goes beyond just his play-calling during the game. But in 2021, there’s been enough that’s gone wrong with this 49ers’ bunch that makes you start to criticize Kyle Shanahan for this team’s flaws.
As the head coach, he himself admitted to being deserving of criticism following a four-game losing streak. It’s time we start to question Shanahan’s ability on Sundays and place some portion of the blame on him, as the 49ers try to stop their losing skid in Chicago on Halloween.