49ers’ Kyle Shanahan Reacts to Facing ‘MVP Type Player’ One Last Time

Kyle Shanahan

Getty Kyle Shanahan during the January 1, 2023 road game in Las Vegas.

Kyle Shanahan has had his share of meetings game planning for dominating opposing players. But on Sunday, January 8, the San Francisco 49ers head coach will find ways to block and counter what he called an “MVP type player,” in the final game for that particular longtime talent.

J.J. Watt, the five-time Pro Bowler and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, announced on December 27, 2022 that he is calling it a career by season’s end. The 49ers represent his final team he’ll ever line up against when the Arizona Cardinals take the field at Levi’s Stadium for the Week 18 finale.

And for the sixth-year head coach, he’ll be coaching against a defender he thinks so highly of.

“One of the best players I’ve ever gone against. When you talk about MVP type players, he was definitely one of the guys,” Shanahan told reporters on Wednesday, January 4.

How Watt Compares to Other Defenders Shanahan has Seen

Shanahan is the same coach who’s had to counter Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams twice a year. His offenses even has to deal with Nick Bosa before games. Shanahan even remembered facing another five-time Pro Bowler before in James Harrison. But how does Watt compare?

“We talked about that with Nick Bosa a couple weeks ago. Aaron Donald always. J.J., I remember my first year as a coordinator, my first game against someone was James Harrison, that was the year he won Defensive Player of the Year and beat Arizona in the Super Bowl,” Shanahan recalled. “And I remember how he was, specifically, and I’ve always looked at J.J. that way. Different from the position he is at, it was always so hard to block him.”

Shanahan and the 49ers only had to face a healthy Watt twice the moment he became a Cardinal in 2021. In both games, Watt didn’t record a sack and went on to deliver a combined four solo tackles. Watt is 1-2 all-time versus the 49ers according to Pro Football Reference with his one victory coming on October 10, 2021 in Levi’s.

Shanahan Further Explained the Difficulty in Blocking Watt

With Shanahan an offensive whiz, especially in throwing misdirection runs and screens on defenses, he still admits that Watt is someone who was always hard to draw plays against considering his spot on the field.

“It was so hard to game plan him just on how to help out with the five technique (Watt’s natural defensive end spot) with what you do with the tight end, and you put your halfback on big three-four ‘backers,” Shanahan detailed.

It didn’t matter if Shanahan called a pass or running play with Watt on the other side. He’d always try to find a way to beat you off of will or smarts.

“And he was just such a hard guy, whether it’s run or pass game, to kind of take out of the game because of where they could position him and how big and strong he was and how smart he played. And that’s why he is one of the best players I’ve seen,” Shanahan said.

Watt may have moved on to the NFC West. But his former employer, the Houston Texans, also gave him praise on a brilliant career which will have its curtain call in front of the 49ers Faithful.

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