Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Before anyone reads the headline and refuses to read the rest of the commentary, I want to make a few things crystal clear.
The San Francisco 49ers put up 51 points against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday and played nearly flawless football.
The 49ers’ defense shut down Carolina’s air game and put an abrupt end to the Kyle Allen hype train.
On offense, the 49ers’ ground attack tallied 232 net rushing yards on plays that I am sure head coach Kyle Shanahan pulled from a high school playbook.
Despite all these positives, there are always parts of a team’s game that could use an adjustment. There is nothing wrong with an undefeated football team continuing to fix the minute elements of its game.
Unfortunately, the 49ers have just a few hours to adjust before taking the field Halloween night against the Arizona Cardinals.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is not immune from staring down his favorite targets, notably tight end George Kittle.
On the 49ers’ second possession of the game, the offense came to the line, and Garoppolo put wide receiver Dante Pettis on a counter-motion.
Once Pettis got back into position, Garoppolo called “can” during his cadence, which changed the play at the line of scrimmage without using an audible.
In Shanahan’s system, the quarterback can call two plays in the huddle, with the offense running the first play, unless Garoppolo shouts “can” during the cadence.
The new play sent Kittle on a shallow crossing route. Unfortunately, Garoppolo never took his eyes off his favorite receiver. Kittle drifted at the top of his route, which gave linebacker Luke Kuechly to jump in front of the pass.
Often, fans hear "he stares down receivers" on a football talk show, and then recycle it at the bar or with friends as if they’ve been given an NFL Rosetta stone. It's a sophomoric take on a complicated position.
There are cold realities about being an NFL quarterback, with the frostiest certainty being quite simple: all quarterbacks stare down receivers. Watch any tape of any quarterback, and you’ll see him never take his eyes off a target now and then.
Favorite receivers are safety blankets, especially with four or five 290-pound linemen coming at you with the force of a locomotive. You, too, would want to throw the ball to your best pass catcher.
Shanahan can help Garoppolo by calling a few plays with three-step drops or forcing him to read a progression on a movement play like Fake 19 Keep Right. On this play, Garoppolo fakes a handoff and bootlegs to his right. He’ll have three receivers to choose from – a low cross from his F-receiver, a 25-yard run-back from his Z-receiver, and a late down-flat route from the Y.
Justin Skule’s Safety
Somehow, the 49ers’ offense has functioned quite well even with two reserve tackles who don’t belong in the NFL.
Indeed, I’ve been overly critical of the front office’s lack of foresight to find quality back-up linemen; that is my white whale, and I will chase that argument round Good Hope, round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom before I give that up.
Unfortunately, short of 13-year veteran Joe Staley playing this Thursday, there is little the team can do to help rookie tackle Justin Skule become a better tackle. He had a rough Week 8, allowing one sack, two hurries, and three pressures. Pro Football Focus awarded him a paltry 36.2 pass-blocking grade.
I will tip my cap to Skule for being tossed into perdition’s flames and playing just well enough to keep Garoppolo healthy. But at some point, the opposition is going to get wise and start sending complicated blitzes at Skule and fellow tackle Daniel Brunskill.
Skule’s safety was a meaningless score for the Panthers. However, in a closer game, that’s the type of play that shifts momentum.
Defense Giving Up Less Than 100 Yards Rushing
The 49ers’ defense is definitely born-again hardcore. Over seven games, the team is allowing 11 points per game, a league-low 901 passing yards, and 670 rushing yards on 152 attempts. The team is still allowing less than 100 yards per game on the ground, despite allowing 130 net rushing yards to the Panthers.
I am guilty of many of the seven sins – chiefly sloth – but in this instance, I am guilty of pride. I want to see the 49ers’ defense stuff running backs and hold teams to embarrassing statistics. I’d like to see the 49ers run defense get back to business and keep the Cardinals to 80 yards or fewer on the ground.
Thursday Night Football is one of the NFL’s worst ideas. It’s about money, rather than good football or player safety. I am hopeful Shanahan’s coaching staff is prepared to install an offense that crushes the Cardinals early and a defense that keeps quarterback Kyler Murray confused and lost among his frost giant linemen.
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