Speaking to the media this week, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan seemed to indicate he doesn’t want to rest his starters despite clinching a playoff berth.
A season ago, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan didn’t have to face the conundrum of resting starters in advance of the postseason.
The Niners needed every last game and quarter of the regular season to just make it into the playoffs, finally defeating the Los Angeles Rams in overtime in what was a must-win game back in Week 18 a year ago.
Now, with the NFC West already clinched and San Francisco capable of finishing no worse than at the No. 3 seed in the conference, Shanahan can fairly wonder if it’s best to continue playing with momentum in the hope of climbing even higher in the playoff picture, or he can elect to rest the bulk of his starters down the stretch of the team’s final three regular-season games.
Doing so, of course, mitigates the ever-present injury risk.
Speaking to the media ahead of the Niners’ Week 16 game on Saturday against the playoff-hopeful Washington Commanders, though, Shanahan made it seem as if resting players wasn’t going to be a big part of the plan.
49ers not likely to rest starters, according to Kyle Shanahan
Of course, what a head coach says during a press conference doesn’t always have to translate over to what he does on game day.
It’s just as possible Shanahan starts many of his blue-chip players such as left tackle Trent Williams, tight end George Kittle, running back Christian McCaffrey and EDGE Nick Bosa before pulling them after halftime, particularly if San Francisco is out to a comfortable lead in games.
However, Shanahah already pointed out the argument of “rest versus rust” in that presser he had with reporters this week:
"I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes people make just watching it over the years. That’s my opinion, I would understand if you were getting ready for a seven-game series, I don’t think football is like that. It’s three and a half hours. It’s one shot.I’ve been on a lot of teams where you rest guys and or give guys a few more weeks and those are usually the guys who struggle the most in that first playoff game, but I think what situations are different is like last year when it came down to our last game you have guys that are fighting to play because they’re right on the bubble of not being able to play and in this situation those guys you would definitely rest, so anybody who has an injury that could risk them for the following week or something like that’s to me the decisions now that there is no decision. Definitely rest them."
A year ago, Williams was dealing with a high-ankle sprain that should have resulted in him getting benched in favor of rest. However, with the 49ers in desperation mode at the time, Williams played.
The Niners aren’t going to fall into the No. 4 seed with that spot in the NFC playoff order going to the winner of the lowly NFC South, but the first and second seeds — currently held by the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings, respectively — remain up for grabs.
San Francisco, at 10-4, trails Minnesota by one game but would hold the tiebreaker because of a better conference record.
Even though the one-loss Eagles might be too tough to catch, a recent injury to quarterback Jalen Hurts, an MVP candidate, could help thwart Philly’s chances for a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
“You can’t really dial back anything when you’re trying to win and get the best seed possible, which we’re trying to do,” Bosa said, via 49ers Webzone. “So just play the same, prepare the same, and just don’t let any of your habits slip that you’ve done all year because, at this time of year, your mind could wonder and stuff like that, so you just want to stick with what you’ve been doing.”
As long as that doesn’t involve a serious injury to one or more of the 49ers’ key players, that sounds like an excellent strategy.