SF 49ers: 5 items on Kyle Shanahan’s to-do list during bye week

Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /
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SF 49ers Week 3 Giants live game thread
Nick Mullens #4 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

No. 3: SF 49ers must think ‘pass first’ on first downs

This season, Kyle Shanahan has called 41.6 percent of his offensive plays on the ground, which ranks 14th highest in the NFL. And 53.1 percent of his first-down attempts have been run plays, too.

The 36.2-percent rush rate on second down signifies there’s a lot of run-run-pass three-down sets called by Shanahan this season.

When San Francisco’s ground attack was clicking, including last year, there was little wrong with this approach. But the inconsistencies and injuries at quarterback in 2020 have led to teams cheating against the run.

Facing eight-man boxes has become nothing new to the SF 49ers. Jerick McKinnon has already faced eight-man fronts on over 15 percent of his carries, far and away the highest for any Niners running back this season, per NextGen Stats. Knowing Shanahan’s tendency to run on first down has meant defenses have little trouble cheating against the run on early downs, looking to stop runners like McKinnon at or just beyond the line of scrimmage.

That helps explain McKinnon’s 1.8 yards-per-attempt average against the Saints in Week 10.

Altering this approach and going with more pass-first plays will go a long way in ensuring San Francisco’s offense is more effective at moving the ball.

Especially if quarterback Nick Mullens is allowed to get back on track.