The 49ers lost in disjointed fashion to the Colts on Sunday night, and Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard had a quote that said it all.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the best offensive minds in all of football.
He also can outcoach himself, and that was more than apparent during the Niners’ ugly Week 7 Sunday Night Football loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
The 30-18 defeat amid the rain and wind at Levi’s Stadium ultimately forced Shanahan’s squad to a 2-4 record at the tail end of what’s been a four-game losing streak, losses in which Shanahan’s offense has failed to capture the dynamic playmaking abilities and prowess it was expected to generate this season.
And while the weather played a factor for both teams Sunday night, it was ultimately San Francisco that was impacted more from a negative light.
In some ways, though, Shanahan’s own play-calling mistakes and strategy played a bigger role in the loss.
Colts LB Darius Leonard thanks Kyle Shanahan, 49ers for getting away from the game plan
After the game, star Colts linebacker Darius Leonard spoke with reporters and highlighted one of the elements he appreciated (h/t The Athletic’s Stephen Holder):
Indeed, Shanahan’s offense got off to a hot start, riding rookie running back Elijah Mitchell’s 57 rush yards on the opening drive all the way to the end zone for an early touchdown and lead.
Yet Shanahan and the 49ers largely got away from that approach, using misdirection and bootleg plays to get Indianapolis’ aggressive linebackers like Leonard into over-pursuit mode, which was working early and should have been a bigger factor amid the deluge of rain and wind.
Instead, Shanahan reverted back to many up-the-middle runs from Mitchell, which didn’t work out so well against Leonard and a stout Colts run defense. Even then, though, it wasn’t too late to abandon those plays, as evidenced by the Niners’ three-play, 70-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that was capped off by a touchdown pass from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to wide receiver Deebo Samuel.
On, wait for it… a play-action misdirection call:
True, Samuel ended up running with the grain of the play instead of against it, but that was where the hole in the secondary was.
Still, Leonard’s comments are pretty revealing. The worst thing is we’ve heard this about Shanahan before.
Kyle Shanahan, 49ers were called out by Tyrann Mathieu in Super Bowl LIV
Week 7 certainly isn’t the first time Shanahan went against what was already working for him in a game San Francisco had an early advantage.
As painful as it might be to recollect, the 49ers’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs had an eerily similar result where the Niners’ once-potent rushing attack was leading the way to the franchise’s would-be sixth Super Bowl trophy.
Except for Shanahan all but abandoned the run game, much to the enjoyment of Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, who made the following remarks after that heartbreaking San Francisco loss.
“We were grateful they got out of the run and started to throw the ball,” Mathieu said.
Generally speaking, it’s Football 101 for a play-caller to stick with what’s working until an opponent figures out a way to counter. The Chiefs didn’t have too many answers back in February of 2020 until Shanahan and the 49ers solved that issue for them.
And, at least according to Leonard, the Colts’ problems with the Niners’ misdirection plays in Week 7 weren’t solved until Shanahan went away from that strategy, too.