49ers Special Teams and Coaching Grades
Shanahan did all he could to make Robbie Gould the 49ers’ player of the game in Sunday’s matchup against the kicker’s former team. Shanahan was successful, as Gould converted all three of his short field-goal attempts, and accounted for all nine of his team’s points in Week 16. Punter Bradley Pinion had a good day, as he averaged over 45 yards per punt without allowing a return. However, Pinion only forced one touchback on his three kickoffs.
One area the 49ers drastically need to improve on is their kick-return game. Outside of rookie wide receiver Richie James‘ touchdown in Week 15, the Niners’ return game has provided little over the course of the season, mostly due to slow-developing returns that fail to allow the returner to simply use his speed and agility to gain positive yardage without wasting valuable time crossing the field.
Sunday marked the first game Shanahan was outcoached by his defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. For the third consecutive week, the 49ers’ defense came to play on Sunday. While his game plan was far from perfect, Saleh’s defensive unit held the Bears’ offense to just two scores, despite the number of young and inexperienced players on the defensive side of the ball. Saleh’s scheme still needs a few simple fixes, like modifying coverage against bunch trips formations, and properly filling interior gaps on obvious inside running plays, but the coach has come a long way in the past three weeks.
Shanahan is held to a higher standard because he has the ability to be truly great. Unfortunately, he was far from good in Week 16. Shanahan’s offense is predicated on keeping opposing defenses on their toes so they don’t know what’s coming next, yet he often falls into the trap of calling similar predictable plays in certain situations. Shanahan also needs to improve his clock management skills, as his deficiency in this area was on display at the end of the first half. The 49ers’ head coach and unofficial offensive coordinator needs to be far more aggressive, which doesn’t mean passing on every down or attacking the middle of the field with no time remaining. Shanahan has a world of potential, but he has yet to put it all together.
Next Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers finish off the 2018 NFL regular season when they travel south to take on the 12-3 Los Angeles Rams in Week 17.