Following four straight losses, the San Francisco 49ers‘ season is officially on the brink.
If the Niners 2-4 record, with their bye week already behind them, was not indicator enough that it is do-or-die time in San Francisco, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s comments following the team’s 30-18 disaster of a loss at home against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, October 24 cemented the case.
Tim Kawakami, of The Athletic, broke down what became clear based on what Shanahan did, and did not, say in his postgame presser — namely that major changes are likely on the immediate horizon. According to Kawakami, the coach’s future in the Bay Area may depend on it.
“Shanahan doesn’t exactly know why the 49ers can’t move the ball, can’t defend a deep pass without committing a penalty and can’t finish games. He expected so much more,” Kawakami wrote in his article, published Sunday. “Now he has a ton of hard work to do to try to fix just about everything. And this losing streak has put his entire tenure under the microscope, exposed to the heat and with intensifying scrutiny.”
Kawakami’s analysis continued.
“Things have to change. Immediately,” he wrote. “Of course, Shanahan wasn’t going to declare that it’s open season on the depth chart right now. He wasn’t going to publicly bench Jimmy Garoppolo for Trey Lance, especially because Lance’s injured knee kept (him) out of this game and it’s not clear that he’ll be ready to play Sunday in Chicago. None of this was going to be specified immediately after a game. But if you know Shanahan’s style and understand what he didn’t say, you know that big changes are on the table. Very much on the table.”
Shanahan Still Has Yet to Commit to Quarterback Change
The first and strongest indicator from Shanahan that changes are more or less imminent were in his comments about his quarterback situation, specifically those he made when asked about whether Garoppolo would start against the Chicago Bears on Halloween.
“I would guess so. We’re going to watch this tape and see if guys are healthy, first of all. Where all our guys are at,” Shanahan said. “It was good for Jimmy to be able to get healthy enough to play this game.”
Niners Coach’s Flip Flops Over Last Week Could be Theater
As the week wore on, Shanahan had more to say on the topic of who will start at quarterback in the immediate future.
The head coach changed his tune on Monday.
“I get all the questions,” Shanahan said of the budding QB controversy during a conference call with NFL reporters. “But it’s way too early to start thinking about just getting guys experience and giving up the year that way. I’m trying to do what’s best for our team — and also what’s best for those players. Not just Trey but other guys. Getting experience just to get it isn’t always beneficial.”
Shanahan may have had a true change of heart over the course of one day. However, after 24 hours to think and rein in his emotions, and considering the consummate schemer the Niners’ head coach has proven to be — both as an offensive play designer and during his dealings with media members over the course of his NFL career — he may have simply decided it was in everyone’s best interest to posture a while.
One thing his comments made clear is this: Should Shanahan feel the Niners season has slipped away, Garoppolo is out and Lance is in. However, Lance could appear in the starting role sooner than that.
He certainly will as soon as the San Francisco coaching staff believes he gives the team a better chance to win than does his veteran counterpart. After a hapless, three-turnover performance by Garoppolo in the rain Sunday against the Colts, Shanahan and company may already believe Lance is the best option.
But what is the point of saying so publicly if Lance isn’t healthy enough to go Sunday regardless? There’s no reason to make a lame duck quarterback out of Garoppolo in a crucial mid-season game when the only alternative to replace him is career backup and Niners’ third-string quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
Shanahan did say later in the week that if Lance was healthy enough, he would see snaps against the Bears. That isn’t an implication that he will usurp Garoppolo, as the rookie has gotten field time outside of his one start against the Arizona Cardinals, which he registered due to a calf injury Garoppolo suffered in a home loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 4.
“I think we have changed personnel a lot each week these four games. So I’m not going to (do) something drastic right now,” Shanahan said following Sunday’s loss. “I’ll go evaluate the tape and stuff and hopefully get a couple more guys (healthy) this week. I’ll look what gives us the best chance.”
Posturing or not, another loss or two will demand drastic changes on the part of Shanahan. If he fails to make the necessary moves, and the Niners fail to return to competitive status throughout the rest of the season, it may be the coaching staff that suffers through the brunt of drastic changes — starting with Shanahan.