Image Credit: Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports
Shanahan Sacrificed a Balanced Offense to Satisfy a Winning Record
Rain or shine, the San Francisco 49ers’ undefeated start to the 2019 season is here to stay. However, after a 9-0 victory over Washington, it feels a bit like some fans just couldn’t stand the weather.
The 49ers sluggish offense and low score were never meant to cause you any sorrow or pain.
When the air is slippery, with rain bleeding from a lacerated sky, even the most high-powered offense will look like it is standing in shimmering glacial pools of frozen glass.
Changes in weather require a shift in game plan. It does not matter if a team is playing in a downpour or extreme heat – each involves some kind of adjustment.
Indeed, teams can get ready for a storm by dunking footballs in water, but that’s nothing compared to a flooded field with no firm ground.
Fellow Hub writer Matt Barr, sitting on high at Fed Ex field, commented on the rain. “It poured the whole game, with the rain stopping twice. I remember once it stopped during a TV time out. The standing water was clearly visible from the cheap seats, especially around the 30-yard lines.”
The 49ers were not going to beat Washington and the forces of nature. Wisely, head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan abolished the game plan he’d set in stone, deciding not to take on Zeus.
When the final gun sounded, the 49ers ran the ball 39 times for 137 yards, grinding out 3.5 yards per rush. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo attempted 21 passes, completing only 12, and totaling 151 passing yards.
Unfortunately, 49er running backs had to find their own success, as the offensive line had one of its weaker showings this season. Garoppolo had more yards scrambling than the backs did running over left tackle Justin Skule or left guard Laken Tomlinson. (Source)
However, the right side of the line carved better wakes for the 49er running backs. Center Weston Richburg, right guard Mike Person, and right tackle Daniel Brunskill were responsible for 45-percent of the total rush yardage.
There’s no question the 49ers’ offense struggled in the first half. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could only muster 10 passing yards on three completions, averaging 1 single yard per pass attempt.
But neither team took any real command of the first 30 minutes of the football game. Both franchises struggled to find a section of the offensive playbook that was built for sideways rain and the wind raging among the clouds.
Shanahan made the right adjustments at halftime, which resulted in 74 more yards on the ground and 141 yards in the air.
Six of the 49ers’ longest offensive plays came in the second half, including a 40-yard pass to wide receiver Richie James, Jr. Of note, James’ reception was on a short pass over the middle, which James racked up roughly 30 yards after the catch.
Wins and losses cannot entirely be blamed on the natural world. There are, in fact, elements of luck and divine intervention, depending on which way you view the universe. The idea that somehow, Garoppolo was going to have success in intermediate and deep timing routes while standing in a puddle, was almost non-existent.
Further, we may never know what Shanahan’s original game plan was, or the parts of the playbook he was forced to ignore due to the unforgiving elements.
Football is slower on a field that looks like a flooded school playground. When nobody has sound footing, it is easily exploited by both defenses. It turns into a grinding game, rather than an offensive explosion. Frankly, I was shocked the 49ers’ defense didn’t get a scoop-and-score.
After the rain washed away all the mud and pain, the 49ers won the football game. No, it was not a commanding win, but it didn’t need to be. The 49ers are a different team than in years past.
The offense, when stagnant, can fall back on the defense for support. The defense, rough and tough, strong and mean, can rely on the offense to string together a drive for a few points or even a short breather.
These factors did not exist in the two previous years under Shanahan.
Field conditions always play a role in a football game, though it cannot be blamed for a win or loss. Great teams will find a way to win, whether through exploiting weaknesses - like Washington’s offensive line - or simply through a grinding ground assault.
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