Grant Cohn: 49ers' red-zone failures are a product of Shanahan's approach
SANTA CLARA – Kyle Shanahan doesn’t understand the problem with the 49ers’ red-zone offense. The problem is him.
He thinks his players are the issue. He blamed them on Monday, said they “missed opportunities” he created in the red zone during the 49ers’ 24-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
The 49ers may have missed opportunities Sunday when they scored only one touchdown in four red-zone trips. But, their red-zone issues began way before that. They started when Kyle Shanahan became the head coach. He is the constant in this red-zone equation.
And he won’t do the math. He’s in denial.
“Last year, I think we got better in the red zone as the year went,” Shanahan said Monday.
They didn’t. They got worse. The 49ers’ red-zone-touchdown percentage dropped to 45.5, which put them near the bottom of the league, after Jimmy Garoppolo became the starter Week 13. Before Garoppolo was the starter, the 49ers scored touchdowns 48.2 percent of the time they reached the red zone, which also ranked near the bottom of the league.
Garoppolo is much more talented than his predecessors – Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard. Yet, the red-zone offense got worse with Garoppolo. The onus is on Shanahan.
Shanahan is an offensive guru. Some consider him the best offensive coach in the league. How can he make getting to the red zone look so easy and scoring in the red zone look so difficult?
“It’s just the same for every other team in the NFL,” Shanahan lectured. “It gets harder the tighter you get. It always does. That’s every team.”
True. But, it gets especially hard for Shanahan.
He has been a play caller and an offensive coordinator for 10 seasons. During that time, his red-zone offenses have ranked in the top half of the league just three times. He has a history of failure near the goal line.
“You try to get guys as open as possible,” Shanahan explained. “When people aren’t open I always look at myself. Yeah, you need guys to beat man coverage, and those are the type of guys we want here, and I think our guys have done a good job at beating man coverage, but we always look into that.”
He’s looking into the wrong things.
Here are the real reasons Shanahan’s offense underperforms in the red zone.
1. Shanahan doesn’t run the ball enough in the red zone.
Notice Shanahan talked about getting people open and beating man coverage.
He’s too focused on passing. The 49ers need to run the ball more. Last season, they ran 26 times fewer than they passed in the red zone. A huge imbalance, one of the most imbalanced red-zone attacks in the league.
The best red-zone offenses commit to the ground game. Of the 10 teams that scored the most touchdowns in the red zone last season, seven ran more than they passed in that area of the field.
Smart coaches want to run the ball.
Gurus want to pass.
Completing a pass into the end zone shows the guru’s ingenuity. He designed a play that outsmarted the other team. He was the hero.
Running the ball into the end zone does not show ingenuity. It shows the strength, toughness and will of the players. They were the heroes.