How SF 49ers Kyle Shanahan outcoached Patriots Bill Belichick

Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

The SF 49ers walloped the Patriots 33-6 in Week 7, and Kyle Shanahan completely dominated his counterpart, Bill Belichick, in the win.

Perhaps SF 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan wanted to enact some vengeance on New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for what happened when Shanahan was the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator back in 2016 and into Super Bowl LI.

Well, a regular-season win won’t make up for Shanahan and the Falcons’ epic collapse in that game. But the Niners dominating Belichick and the Pats 33-6 on the road in New England in Week 7 sure has to feel good for Shanahan and Co.

With San Francisco getting back above .500 and ahead of a brutal stretch of upcoming games, Shanahan should be able to look back at his “positionless” offense and how effective it was thwarting whatever Belichick and his defense wanted to do.

Minus his starting running back, Raheem Mostert, and shoo-in starting center, Ben Garland, Shanahan still went with an overly effective outside-zone run game with his blockers extending beyond New England’s contain efforts. This helped negate what Belichick was trying to do with a less-than-stellar pass rush, focused largely on rushing from those primary edge positions.

As a result, fill-in running back Jeff Wilson Jr. had himself a game, rushing for 112 yards on 17 carries, three touchdowns and averaging 6.6 yards per attempt before suffering a game-ending ankle injury in the second half.

To tack on just how well Shanahan’s ground attack was working, backup running back JaMycal Hasty also rushed for an average of 6.3 yards per rush.

This play gives a good idea how Shanahan’s play-calling got the best of Belichick:

Belichick’s prior defenses against the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII contained the edges effectively enough. But the 16-yard score took advantage of additional Patriots defenders being pressed up along the line of scrimmage, not back at the second level where stopping Wilson would have been much easier.

Perhaps that was part of the magic trick from Shanahan’s pocket.

“We didn’t perform well enough in any area,” Belichick told reporters after the game. “Coaching, playing, offense, defense, special teams, running, passing, defending the run, defending the pass, ball security, tackling, blocking. Nothing was good enough.”

In that area, too, Shanahan had his squad far more equipped to play. Belichick did not. That’s another wrinkle in the SF 49ers’ favor.

How SF 49ers got the statistical dominance over Patriots

Shanahan got an OK enough game from his quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, who went 20-of-25 for 277 yards, albeit with zero touchdowns and two interceptions.

Jimmy G’s first interception was the epitome of one of those bone-headed throws, although the second pick on a Hail Mary just before halftime is hard to pin on Garoppolo.

Where Shanahan won with Garoppolo, though, was giving him more of those short- and intermediate-area throws where New England’s still-good secondary wouldn’t have nearly as much effect.

It worked, particularly with rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk getting his first 100-yard game with a team-leading six receptions for 115 yards. With Belichick and the Pats doing their usual work of taking away the Niners’ best offensive weapon, tight end George Kittle, by putting New England’s best defender, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Shanahan ensured Aiyuk would be the primary beneficiary.

Tack on this approach with the run game’s effectiveness, Belichick and the Patriots had no answers. Even with their stunts and blitzes, Garoppolo was still mostly able to hit his open targets.

As a result, the SF 49ers managed 467 total yards of offense, 26 first downs, went 5-of-9 on third downs and 4-of-5 in the red zone.

In contrast, the Pats had 241 total yards, 17 first downs and was 1-of-6 on third downs.

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Shanahan got the best of Belichick. There’s no other way around it.