Kyle Shanahan: Answers for sliding 49ers already on team

Credits: ESPN

The San Francisco 49ers were facing challenges leading up to their bye week at this same time last year.

They were just defeated handily at Levi’s Stadium by the Kansas City Chiefs, who now have a 3-4 record. But the facility itself held the key to solving that team’s biggest difficulty. A few days prior, the Niners made a blockbuster trade to acquire running back Christian McCaffrey, hoping he would ignite a second-half comeback. When he did, the Niners ended the season with ten straight victories and a trip to the NFC Championship Game.

A little over a year later, the Niners have a much better record going into their bye week and the NFL trade deadline on Tuesday, but they also feel even more pressure to turn things around following their 31-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. San Francisco lost to the Bengals for the third time straight after starting the season 5-0; as a result, they are now 5-3 and out of first place in the NFC West division.

While the Niners will probably actively seek outside assistance, head coach Kyle Shanahan made it apparent on Sunday afternoon that another McCaffrey will not be entering via that door. Therefore, the majority of change must come from within. This process will start with a lot of introspection during the week off before the Niners’ game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on November 12.

“No, none of this changes anything with the trade deadline,” stated Shanahan. “I think we have the solutions in our facility based on how we played tonight and how we played the previous three weeks. We have good players, in my opinion. We have good coaches, in my opinion. My job is to motivate them to perform better.

“I thought we started out pretty good, but there’s some things that we haven’t been able to hide here these last few weeks and that’s why we’ve got to continue to push them in every aspect because some people do go on these losing streaks and they don’t have those answers and you’re just living in hope.”

After winning 15 straight regular-season games (tied for a team record) and defeating their first five opponents of the season by an average of 19.8 points per game, the Niners suffered their first three-game losing run since the 2021 campaign.

Shanahan had made repeated references to his team’s blunders early in the season, which they were able to get away with since they had jumped out to enormous leads. The Niners’ struggles in the red zone and penalties had been an issue, but they were more than made up for by their offensive prowess (21 plays of 20 yards or more were sixth most in the NFL) and defensive efficiency (10 20-plus yard plays allowed were fewest in the NFL). In the fight of turnovers, they had also been unmatched, going plus-7 with a league-low two turnovers.

For the majority of those categories, the last three weeks have brought about a significant change in the other direction. The Niners have allowed 15 plays of 20 yards or more (the second highest in the NFL during that time), have been outgained by an average of 62 yards per game, and have been outscored by 7 points per game. In addition, the Niners are tied for fourth worst in turnover margin (minus 3) and have turned the ball over seven times, which is tied for the fourth worst.

Niners quarterback Brock Purdy has thrown five interceptions in the last three games, including four in opposition territory, one of which occurred inside Cincinnati’s 10 on Sunday, after not throwing one in the first five weeks. The Niners’ inability to run the ball frequently or efficiently has also been hampered by their compounding errors.

“All I know is that it’s hard to win football games when you lose the turnover battle which we’ve done two weeks in a row,” George Kittle, the tight end, said. “And we obviously just have to play better and we have to put ourselves in situations where we can run the football more and we don’t have to throw the ball so many times.”

The defensive troubles have been the most unexpected, even though many of those have been concerning. Even after DeMeco Ryans (who went on to become the head coach of the Houston Texans) was replaced as coordinator by Steve Wilks, the Niners have consistently featured one of the finest defenses in the league, therefore they were expected to be difficult to score on this season.

Although it wasn’t the case recently, it was throughout the first five weeks. The Niners have allowed roughly 70 extra passing yards per game in the air as the schedule and quarterbacks they face have gotten harder, and over the last three games, the QBR of opposition quarterbacks has increased by nearly 16 points.

Wilks has been under intense scrutiny as a result of these problems, his pass rush’s inability to get to the end zone, and the contentious blitz call that occurred just before halftime of the team’s defeat to the Minnesota Vikings last week. Shanahan, meanwhile, asserted on Sunday that everyone is equally responsible.

“This isn’t on any one coach or any one side of the ball,” stated Shanahan. “We also haven’t scored more than 20 points at this place in three weeks. Thus, I believe that we need to improve our defense. Our offensive needs to improve, in my opinion. I think we need to perform better as a team. When I refer to “our team,” I mean each and every player as well as, I believe, each coach.”

The 49ers will now have a lengthy hiatus to allow Deebo Samuel’s damaged shoulder and left tackle Trent Williams’ sprained right ankle to heal. That should help, but the Niners will need to do much more to win as they go into a stretch of games against Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Seattle once more in the five weeks following their bye.

“We’ve got to sit here and wait about 14 days to deal with this feeling that we have, which nobody wants, but I think we need to,” added Shanahan. “I believe that our men should be a little bit furious. Since it hasn’t been enough and we haven’t been finishing, I believe we should return with a somewhat stronger concentration.”

Credits: ESPN

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