s
s
Sections
You've read 3 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read 6 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
Ooops! You're out of free articles. Starting at just 99 cents per month, you can keep reading all of our products and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?

SANTA CLARA - With 8 minutes and 31 seconds left in the third quarter of Super Bowl 51, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Tevin Coleman.

Seven months later, this is relevant to Bay Area sports. Why? Because Kyle Shanahan’s teams have not scored a touchdown since. The Falcons had four additional possessions against the New England Patriots last February and failed to score. And Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, the 49ers got their mitts on the ball 10 times and, as you can probably gather from the final score, did not reach the end zone in a 23-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers. It was the worst home defeat ever for this franchise in Week 1.

Since Coleman’s touchdown, the Shanahans have punted seven times, turned it over on downs three times, lost two fumbles, thrown one interception and kicked a field goal (courtesy of Robbie Gould in the third quarter Sunday).

Quite a stretch for the guy some have called the premier offensive strategist in the NFL.

Granted, different factors were at work in the two games. In February, when Shanahan was Atlanta’s offensive coordinator, he was going against Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots, one of the great dynasties of NFL history. A lot of teams have come up empty in that situation.

The 49ers had no such excuse. The Panthers were 6-10 a year ago, and they didn’t look particularly magnificent Sunday. San Francisco’s piddling 3-point output was more a result of its own shortcomings. Compared with the team Shanahan left behind in Atlanta, this one has the pyrotechnic capability of a toaster oven.

Start with the quarterback, Brian Hoyer. He isn’t terrible. Just meh. Which is pretty much what everyone figured when he arrived as a stop-gap free agent. Hoyer looked solid against the Panthers in the first half. But his second pass after halftime was behind tight end George Kittle, who was crossing right to left, and into the hands of Luke Kuechly, Carolina’s all-pro linebacker. Kuechly picked it off at midfield and ran to the 49ers’ 23. Five plays later, Cam Newton threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to running back Jonathan Stewart to give the visitors a 20-0 lead.

“We thought he would go the other way, based on his previous times playing and his smarts,” Hoyer said of Kuechly. “Usually he would drop onto the receiver instead of the tight end.”

Hoyer was far from the only culprit. Seven minutes into the game, on the 49ers’ first possession, the quarterback threw a deep ball that settled right into Marquise Goodwin’s arms — and slipped right out. It’s an image you might not have seen for the last time. Goodwin is one of the fastest players in the NFL. He’s also an inconsistent catcher of footballs.

The point is that Shanahan might be a genius of Xs of Os, but when your Os aren’t as good as the other guy’s Xs, you’re probably in trouble. And nowhere is this alphabetical discrepancy of the 49ers’ more obvious than in the middle of their offensive line.

The Panthers sacked Hoyer four times and hit him eight times, and you could argue that he occasionally contributed to his demise by holding the ball too long. What’s beyond debate is that the 49ers line didn’t protect him or the San Francisco running backs very well. More specifically, the interior linemen were ineffective.

The 49ers’ first turnover, with just under 5 minutes left in the first quarter, came when Carolina’s Wes Horton got past left guard Zane Beadles to drill Hoyer and separate him from the ball. At 6:32 of the second quarter, Shanahan went for it on fourth-and-4 and Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis roared straight up the middle to sack Hoyer. Late in that quarter, right guard Brandon Fusco got beat by a spin move on third-and-3, and the pressure forced Hoyer into a quick pass that gained only 2; on the next snap, fourth-and-1, Beadles missed a block on a handoff to Kyle Juszczyk and the fullback was dropped for no gain.

This is not a complete inventory of the Niners’ guard-to-guard woes, but it should serve as solid evidence.

“Brian got hit too many times,” center Daniel Kilgore said. “I think anybody standing back there would be uncomfortable. He just got touched too many times.”

The 49ers could soon get a boost from Laken Tomlinson, a former first-round draft choice whom they acquired in a trade with the Lions on Aug. 31. In all probability, Tomlinson will be starting in place of Beadles within a couple weeks. But let’s be real. He’ll have a minor impact on a roster full of imperfections.

Anyway, it isn’t just talent level that held back the 49ers in Week 1. It was also the very thing that raised so much hope during the offseason: Shanahan’s offensive system.

The guy is brainy, there’s no question. Players like Joe Staley have been saying for weeks that Shanahan breaks down the game like few coaches. But his scheme is no piece of cake to understand and execute. We saw a variety of formations and motions on Sunday. Perhaps a few too many of them. The 49ers were flagged twice for illegal formations (the Panthers declined one of them in favor of a holding call), once for delay of game and three times for false starts. They seemed to be learning as they went.

“I definitely expect us to be farther along,” Shanahan said when I asked him about the pre-snap penalties. “I think that every week. It’s not something new. It’s something we’ve been doing since the first day we got here. I was disappointed in that. I believe we had five of them.”

Kilgore, the center, refused to concede that we should expect confusion and hesitance along with the arrival of a new offensive system.

“I don’t think you should expect any of that,” he said. “I mean, this is the NFL, this is professional football. Be a professional. Get lined up, get where you need to be and let’s go.”

It’s refreshing that a veteran like Kilgore would decline the excuses. But our eyes say otherwise. Shanahan’s offense may eventually be a thing of beauty. It might even spruce up a bit later this season when the players are more familiar with the assignments. But until the roster gets better, we may continue to count the minutes — the many, many minutes — between touchdowns.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.