Are the 49ers being held back by Kyle Shanahan?

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49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan took the reins of a team with low expectations, but does blindly giving the benefit of the doubt mask real deficiencies?

The San Francisco 49ers are in the midst of a ground-up, brick-by-brick rebuild, leading most pundits to consider it blasphemous for anyone to levy any criticism toward their first-year coach working with an overturned roster. But does that mean Kyle Shanahan is infallible and we need to turn a blind eye to perpetuate this status quo?

Many are blaming the Atlanta Falcons offensive decline on not having Kyle Shanahan to call the offensive plays, but does good offensive playcalling ability necessarily translate into good coaching and management of young men? Here are some realities that can certainly lead one to speculate on whether Kyle Shanahan might leave something to be desired as a coach.

The 49ers lead the league in penalties.
One didn’t need to watch the 49ers get mauled by the Cowboys on Sunday to know that this team has been hurt by penalties, but not all may realize that the 49ers now lead the NFL in penalties, tied with the Browns at 58 after 7 games. In comparison, the 49ers had 99 penalties after 17 games in 2016, the 8th fewest in the league. While some may attribute blame to roster changes, team penalties are largely associated with coaching, and the fact that the 49ers lead the league in penalties reflects upon Kyle Shanahan.

Sean McVay and the Rams make Shanahan look like a lesser coach.
Say what you want about the respective rosters, but Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay were both young, highly-touted offensive coordinators when first tabbed to lead floundering teams out of the basement of the NFC West, and so far Sean McVay appears to be a substantially better coach and leaps and bounds ahead in terms of progress.

At the end of 2016, the 49ers had beaten the Rams twice and finished with a 2-14 record, having scored 309 total points and having given up 480. The 2016 Rams finished at 4-12, having scored 224 points and having given up 394 points. The 2016 49ers and Rams ranked 28th and 30th in overall team efficiency, respectively. The 2016 49ers and Rams –with Todd Gurley and Jared Goff on the Rams roster, mind you– ranked 23rd and 32nd in team offensive efficiency, respectively. The 2016 49ers and Rams ranked 28th and 15th in team defensive efficiency, respectively.

Comparing that to 2017, the 49ers are 0-7 and have scored 123 points and have given up 186 points. The Rams are 5-2, having scored the most points in all of the NFL at 212 and having given up 138. After 6 weeks, the 49ers and Rams are 26th and 4th in overall team efficiency, 28th and 13th in team offensive efficiency and 24th and 9th in team defensive efficiency, respectively — and these numbers will look even better for the Rams and worse for the 49ers once week 7 is calculated.

Bottom line, the Rams are substantially more improved in all facets of the game from 2016 to 2017 and this is mostly due to coaching. Perhaps the most telling stat is how the Rams went from last in offensive efficiency even with Todd Gurley and Jared Goff on the roster, to the highest scoring team in the NFL. This is all due to Sean McVay. And say what you want about the Rams having Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, but the 49ers poor performances this season can mostly be attributed to impotent offense and the 49ers defense has actually improved from last season. Wasn’t improving offensive potency the reason the Rams and 49ers chose young, innovative offensive coordinators in the first place?

Some will argue that the 49ers don’t have lottery offensive picks like Jared Goff or Todd Gurley, but it’s not like the 49ers have seen a meteoric improvement in defense after years of lottery defensive picks. Many point out that Shanahan lacks a quarterback, but as John Lynch indicated during free agency and the draft, Kyle Shanahan was very involved with the process of planning for their quarterback in 2017 so the quarterback situation is due, in part, to Kyle Shanahan’s decision making as head coach.

Kyle Shanahan has a very generous 6 year contract and, subsequently, the security to build his coaching style and the luxury to have some potential inadequacies overlooked early in his tenure. And make no mistake, Shanahan may end up being a great head coach and 49ers fans and myself are hoping that happens sooner rather than later. But at what point does chalking everything up to a brick-by-brick rebuild lead to overlooking real issues?

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