49ers’ Shanahan Reveals ‘Hardest Part’ in Facing 2 Dynamic Chargers

Austin Ekeler

Getty Austin Ekeler during the 49ers and Chargers game played on September 30, 2018 in Carson.

The NFL realm knows Kyle Shanahan as an offensive whiz and installing his blueprint on that side of the football. He’s not one to implement defensive strategies.

However, that’s not stopping the sixth-year head coach of the San Francisco 49ers from thinking about two dynamic offensive options his team will contend with this Sunday, November 13 when the Los Angeles Chargers roll up to Levi’s Stadium.

The 5-3 Chargers will have in tow their own versatile Swiss-Army knife target and their version of Christian McCaffrey in running back Austin Ekeler. Then, there’s the man who makes the Charger offense operate in dual-threat passer and 2021 Pro Bowler Justin Herbert. Shanahan addressed both during his presser with the Bay Area media on Wednesday, November 9.

On ‘Hardest Part’ of Planning for Former Undrafted RB

Shanahan is already getting used to “Run CMC” and Deebo Samuel handle a variety of roles and delivering breakout plays in the process in Santa Clara.

But he was asked the hardest part about planning against the Chargers’ own versatile option.

“Just that he can do everything,” Shanahan first stated. “I think he’s one of the better backs in this league. He’s a very natural runner, hits the right holes. When a defense makes a mistake, he makes them pay right away. He’s extremely efficient and good in the pass game, whether it’s screens or running routes or check downs, doesn’t seem to fumble, he is as consistent as it gets and does it in all aspects.”

While the 27-year-old Ekeler is yet to earn his first Pro Bowl nod, he’s put together a resume that points to him possibly eventually being given that nomination. Ekeler so far has 10 combined touchdowns in not even 10 games with the Chargers this season — which includes four games of scoring 2-3 touchdowns. He’s also tops on the Chargers with 60 receptions.

Ekeler is skilled at being reliable as a play action option, even inside the red zone:

But he also has shown tremendous awareness in knowing when he’s truly down by contact.

Ekeler already has three seasons of scoring 10 touchdowns or more according to Pro Football Reference. He also helped lead the Chargers to the 29-27 victory in 2018 when he combined for 56 yards and scored once — which was his only time facing the 49ers.

Shanahan Shares What he Believes Herbert’s Strengths Are

Sunday presents the first time Shanahan and the 49ers will face the third-year quarterback out of Oregon.

Shanahan, though, gave his scouting assessment of the towering 6-foot-6, 237-pound talent.

“He’s got the skillset to do everything. It always starts with how good of a thrower someone is and he’s right there with the top guys on this planet,” Shanahan said. “Whether it’s accuracy, whether it’s doing it from tough angles or whether it’s just arm strength. And whenever you have a guy like that who does have that athletic ability to be a threat, if you don’t account for him it’s a huge challenge.”

Plays like this bomb help illustrate the dynamics Herbert provides as a passer.

But he’s delivered deep strikes while staying in the pocket too:

Herbert already has 19 career 300-yard games in just three seasons in the league per PFR. He’s also shown to take care of the football as he’s yet to endure a multiple interception game this season.

However, the last time he faced an NFC West opponent, he was sacked three times and was picked off once in the 37-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 7. All three Herbert sacks came from the Seahawks’ defensive line — two coming from interior defenders Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods. This bodes well for a 49ers pass rush whose strength has been the defensive line. The 49ers already have 13 defenders getting on the sack sheet this season including four edge rushers who have snatched between 3 to 8.5 sacks.

But still, Ekeler and Herbert are the latest running back and quarterback dynamo the 49ers have to contend against. And Shanahan sounded like a head coach who was up all night thinking about how his team matches up to both and how to counter them.

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