Five of the six head coaching opening were filled this past week, starting with the elevation of Doug Marrone to full time head coach in Jacksonville and ending with the hiring of Anthony Lynn in Los Angeles. The 49ers remain the only franchise that has yet to hire a head coach and that is not by accident or lack of trying. From the onset it has been obvious that the 49ers have had 2 targets at the top of their list, Patriots OC and former Broncos HC Josh McDaniels and Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers will be interviewing current Seahawks OL coach and former Raiders HC Tom Cable for the position but as I mentally cannot process the idea of him getting the position I refuse to consider him in serious contention for the position.
This past weekend both had prime matchup against elite level defenses that would showcase their abilities as play callers and offensive game planners. Kyle Shanahan had the earlier matchup as he had to face a deadly foe in the Seahawks defense, who even though they have dealt with injuries for most of the season still presented a dangerous opponent.
From the onset of the game it was obvious that Kyle Shanahan and his staff had devised a plan that would consistently attack the Seahawks defense while placing his players in the best position to succeed. The game plan was methodical and precise and while there were moments the Seahawks defense was able to contain them the Falcons offense never stopped trying to put their foot to the throat of what was once considered the most feared defense in the entire NFL.
The game plan and in-game play calling showcased exactly what the modern NFL is and should be. It was an attack that was varied and didn't allow the Seahawks to key in on one single individual. It was creative, using multiple sets and took advantage of injured All-Pro safety Earl Thomas. Even when the game was out of hand they were still looking to attack and were unwilling to allow the Seahawks create any kind of positive momentum. This obviously frustrated many of the Seahawks players and coaches as they had to face questions about whether “their championship window” was closing and how ineffective they looked against the ATL offense. Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett made a fool of himself with reporters as he questioned whether or not reporter Bill Wixey had ever faced adversity, Wixey battled and survived Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
The fact that this showcase of Kyle Shanahan’s abilities came against the team that Jed York and the 49ers have tried to match wits with for the past 6 years is another check mark in his favor. It showed in the right environment, with the right pieces at his disposal that the younger Shanahan could have a sustained level of success against the Seahawks and any top level defense in the NFL.
Saturday Night Josh McDaniels had his turn at impressing Jed York and the 49ers brass against the top ranked Texans defense. Against a coaching staff full of individuals that have an extensive history with the Patriots and their coaching staff. Even with a staff with intimate knowledge of the Patriots and a set of offensive skill players that were not on their game they were able to score 27 of the 34 points on the day and secure their 6th straight conference championship game appearance.
McDaniels offense was able to overcome a strong defense, turnovers and ineffective play to pull away in the 2nd half of Saturday Night’s game. Much like his mentor Bill Belichick McDaniels never seemed phased by any of these issues. He largely remained calm and was able to adapt and key in on exploiting the few deficiencies that Texans have. Dion Lewis on Benardrick McKinney was a key matchup that the Patriots focused on, leading to one of the 3 TDs that he scored on the day.
Throughout McDaniels’ tenure in New England the Patriots offense has been known for its chameleon like approach. A scheme that can adapt to any environment, any set of skill players and to virtually any injury or opponent. That was on display Saturday night as 4 different players carried the football and 7 different receivers caught the football. McDaniels and his staff were able to identify mismatches and exploit them. They were able to make the most out of the skill players they had on hand and put up over 375 yards of total offense. They were able to overcome 2 interceptions by Tom Brady and a fumble by Lewis.
By all accounts McDaniels has been the top target for Jed York since he decided to part ways with former HC Chip Kelly but given the performance of the Falcons offense on Saturday the question needs to be asked if Shanahan has closed the gap between the 2 and will force Jed to account for other factors in determining who offers the position to. Will the success that Shanahan and his offense against what Jed believes to be his biggest rival impact his decision making? Will Jed be swayed but one game or will the extensive success of Josh McDaniels as a play caller and game planner, which includes multiple Super Bowl rings and his previous experience as a head coach be the determining factor in who the next HC of the 49ers is.