Skip to content

Kurtenbach: The 49ers’ first game with all their offensive weapons showed potential, Shanahan’s priorities

By Dieter Kurtenbach

SANTA CLARA — Most teams in the NFL would be lucky to have one do-it-all offensive weapon like Christian McCaffrey or Deebo Samuel.

The Niners had both on the field — fully healthy and fully engrained in the offense — for the first time on Sunday night.

A running back who is as good as any receiver; a receiver who is as good as any running back — that one-two punch can create really interesting things on offense.

But that’s not what the Niners did with them in Sunday’s 22-16 win over the Chargers.

No, the Niners’ offense was rather milquetoast in the victory.

Why be complicated when simple gets the job done?

Despite the unimpressive scoreline — which featured three chip-shot field goals — the Niners moved the ball on Sunday. San Francisco went for 387 yards against the Bolts — a 5.5 yards-per-play clip. That’s a solid number, especially when you win the time of possession battle and only turn the ball over once.

McCaffrey had 18 touches (14 carries, four catches) for 77 yards. Samuel had only six touches but gained 51 yards.

Truth be told, running back Elijah Mitchell was more important than McCaffrey Sunday. Mitchell was the Niners’ workhorse, rushing for 89 yards on 18 carries. He kept the chains moving.

As did wide receiver Jauan Jennings. With apologies to Brandon Aiyuk, who had six catches for 84 yards (his fourth-straight game with 80-plus yards), Jennings was the Niners’ most important receiver on Sunday, coming through on third-and-6, 7, and 8.

Those players being standouts tells the story of the game. Mitchell is a tough little number — you can’t bring him down on first contact. Jennings is what we in the biz refer to as a “third down daddy” — the kind of receiver that might lack elite athleticism and speed but always finds a way to get open and always makes the big catch when needed.

Behind Mitchell and Jennings, the 49ers played situational football for 60 minutes on Sunday and won.

Who needs to be innovative or complicated? There’s no need to get cute if you can run into a dude’s chest for four quarters.

“Some good things, but not good enough,” Shanahan said. “Gotta score more touchdowns.”

It’s in that area where the Niners might find value in complication.

The Chargers deserve some credit for mixing things up inside the 20 Sunday. The Niners to a 2-of-5 night in the red zone. That kept the game tight.

Trading out one of Robbie Gould’s 20-yard field goals for a touchdown would have dramatically changed the timbre of the game.

And with McCaffrey and Samuel, the Niners should be a great red zone offense.

Shanahan will tell you that winning on offense is all about creating mismatches. And the closer you are to the end zone on offense, the more valuable those one-on-one matchups become. After all, there’s not much room for scheme to create separation in the pass game and misdirection in the run game.

McCaffrey and Samuel are walking mismatches. And while they are both strong players at doing their primary jobs, what makes them special is that they can do a secondary job nearly as well.

That wasn’t put on display Sunday night. Samuel had one touch inside the Chargers’ 20 — a 7-yard rush on second-and-goal from the 9-yard line.

McCaffrey had five touches inside the 20, but they were generic — a screen pass and some inside zone runs.

Coming off a bye week, the Niners weren’t putting Samuel or McCaffrey up one-on-one against linebackers or extra defensive linemen — they were using them, for the most part, like any other player.

Is it any surprise that with a game plan like that, Shanahan took the points from the 2-yard line, twice?

But again, it worked. The Niners won. The ends justified the means.

Source: Paradise Post