Kyle Shanahan got creative with the 49ers’ two-tailback combinations

Kyle Shanahan got creative with the 49ers’ two-tailback combinations

No wonder George Kittle isn’t quite ready for the bye week.

Not only are the 49ers suddenly reeling from their most complete game of the season, they weren’t on the field very long on Sunday. The game ended in two hours and 45 minutes, lightning fast for an NFL contest and the fastest in 2022 for San Francisco.

That’s what happens when an offense (the Rams) goes on a 17-play, clock-eating drive and the teams combine for just seven penalties. Los Angeles ended up holding the ball eight seconds longer than the 49ers, who played 53 snaps on offense and 58 on defense. Both snap counts are on the light side for an NFL game.

Quarterback: Jimmy Garoppolo 53

There is a lot being written about a post that Christian McCaffrey has as many completions for the 49ers that gained 30 yards outside the numbers as Garoppolo has since joining the team in 2017.

And McCaffrey got his sooner than Garoppolo did — on his 34-yard touchdown toss to Brandon Aiyuk in the second quarter. Garoppolo’s came in the fourth quarter when he found Ross Dwelley, who had been uncovered, for a 56-yard gain.

Garoppolo certainly isn’t a deep-ball bomber, but to be fair, his down-the-sideline pass to Tevin Coleman in Week 4 traveled well over 30 yards in the air. (It officially scored 30). And he’s had some other deep shots.

Ray-Ray McCloud III should have limped into a long throw against Atlanta while Charlie Woerner dropped a deep ball in the same game. In fact, McCloud could have done a better job of Garoppolo’s deep-pass lack on the opening series Sunday by extending his arms. The passport was also submitted.

Running back: McCaffrey 43, Jeff Wilson Jr. 19, Dwelley 4 (fullback)

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There was a report last week that the 49ers were trying to trade Wilson before Tuesday’s trade deadline. But, jeez, Kyle Shanahan seemed to have fun using him and McCaffrey together on Sunday.

For example, both initially lined up in the backfield on the 49ers’ first offensive snap before McCaffrey waved into the slot. Two Rams followed him on his pass route, so Garoppolo instead threw to Wilson for a 9-yard gain.

On another play, Wilson was used as the lead blocker for McCaffrey. On another, Garoppolo faked an inside pass to Wilson and threw a swing pass to McCaffrey.

The bottom line is that Wilson and McCaffrey are the 49ers’ most versatile backs, and Shanahan can be creative — and keep opponents guessing — when they’re on the field together. They did it eight times against the Rams.

Of course, the 49ers also have a decidedly crowded backcourt. One rookie running back, Jordan Mason, was limited to special teams in Los Angeles, while another, Tyrion Davis-Price, did not play at all. Meanwhile, Elijah Mitchell is set to come off injured reserve after the bye week. Oh, and Deebo Samuel is also useful as a running back, and Coleman is on the practice squad.

One more time: McCaffrey had played 85 percent of the Panthers’ offensive snaps before the trade to San Francisco. He shot 81 percent on Sunday, though it seemed odd that he took three late-game handles, including one where nemesis Taylor Rapp flew in from the safety point and delivered a big lick as McCaffrey went to the ground. Why not give those carries to Mason or Davis-Price?

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Wide Receiver: Aiyuk 52, McCloud 30, Willie Snead IV 21, Danny Gray 5, Tay Martin 1

Yes, McCloud could have reached for the deep ball pass from Garoppolo, and he finished with just one reception while replacing Samuel in the starting lineup. But the second-quarter catch — 11 yards — was big in that he held on despite a big hit from Rapp that prompted an unnecessary roughing penalty. The 49ers had faced second-and-15 at one point when the Rams offense was rolling. The catch and penalty resulted in a first down, and the 49ers went on to score a field goal.

McCloud also caught McCaffrey’s third quarter fumble out of the air and was strong on rebounds. He averaged 11.3 yards on punt returns and 33 yards on kickoff returns.

There was some thought before the game that the 49ers could involve Gray with one of the screens or jet sweeps that usually go to Samuel. He was not targeted and is still searching for his first NFL catch. Instead, Snead served as the No. 3 wide receiver.

Tight end: Kittle 53, Tyler Kroft 18, Dwelley 15, Woerner 4

Greg Olsen, the tight end-turned-Fox broadcaster, was practically hyperventilating over the fact that the 49ers had four tight ends in uniform for the game (rare) and sometimes played three at a time (rare), especially around the goal line.

The extra tight end was Kroft, who was back in the lineup after injuring his knee in Week 2. He’s the team’s biggest tight end, is the best blocker outside of Kittle and his presence, in theory, allows Kittle to be used more as a receiver .

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Dwelley lined up as a wideout on his 56-yard catch. On the next snap, he lined up as a fullback. It was typical of the versatile Dwelley on Sunday. This is how his offensive snaps were distributed:

• Inline tight end: 6
• Track receiver: 6
• Fullback: 4
• Wide receiver: 3rd


Ross Dwelley filled in for Kyle Juszczyk at fullback and caught a career-long 56-yard pass while lining up at wide receiver. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today)

Offensive Line: Trent Williams 53, Aaron Banks 53, Jake Brendel 53, Mike McGlinchey 53, Spencer Burford 31, Daniel Brunskill 22

For the second time this season, the 49ers allowed Aaron Donald to be blocked on a play. It happened on the first drive of the second half when Burford, responsible for looking back at Garoppolo to see when he’s ready for the snap, still had his eyes on the quarterback when the ball was released. Garoppolo somehow managed to avoid Donald, but was finished by teammate Greg Gaines.

Banks blocked Gaines on the play, but Pro Football Focus did not assign him responsibility for the sack. Banks allowed a team-high three pressures, per PFF, but still hasn’t given up a sack this season.

Defensive line: Nick Bosa 48, Samson Ebukam 42, Charles Omenihu 33, Kevin Givens 28, Hassan Ridgeway 22, Drake Jackson 21, Kerry Hyder Jr. 20, Akeem Spence 11, TY McGill 7

The Rams’ Matthew Stafford had one of the fastest release times of any quarterback in Week 8 – 2.55 seconds, according to Next Gen Stats. He was even quicker in the first half, which the Rams dominated with quick throws and screens. The 49ers managed just one quarterback pressure in the first half, but had six in the second as Stafford completed just 6-of-14 passes for 37 yards.

Linebacker: Fred Warner 58, Oren Burks 58

What did the 49ers defense do differently in the second half? It flashed.

The main blitzer was Warner, who rushed the pass four times and ended up with one sack and three pressures, the same number as Bosa. On two occasions both Warner and Burks were blitzed.

Maybe DeMeco Ryans is reading minutia minute. Last week, we noted here that Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles filled in at weakside linebacker for injured Dre Greenlaw and struggled while Burks was limited to special teams duties. This week, those roles were reversed. Burks was an all-down linebacker and finished with seven tackles and a pass breakup on a throw to receiver Cooper Kupp. His seven tackles were a career high.

Cornerback: Deommodore Lenoir 58, Jimmie Ward 56, Charvarius Ward 52, Ambry Thomas 8

A week after giving up six catches on six targets for 104 yards, Charvarius Ward allowed just two catches on five targets for 11 yards. The other outside cornerback, Lenoir, also had a good game. He was in coverage on Kupp’s first catch of the game, which went for 20 yards. And he had to take down Kupp after a 23-yard crosser in the second quarter. But that was all Lenoir allowed.

Kupp, meanwhile, finished with 78 receiving yards and just six after halftime. It was his lowest output against the 49ers in the teams’ last five meetings.

Safety: Tashaun Gipson Sr. 58, Talanoa Hufanga 55, Tarvarius Moore 3

Hufanga’s eight tackles were second only to Warner’s game-high 12 stops. But Hufanga had another lost tackle in the match. In fact, he has 13 on the season, per PFF, which leads the 49ers and is one of the highest totals in the NFL. The second most by the 49ers is six by cornerback Emmanuel Moseley.

Special teams: Woerner 21, George Odum 18, Moore 16, Flannigan-Fowles 16, Curtis Robinson 16, Mason 16, Samuel Womack III 16, Dwelley 15, Robbie Gould 11, McCloud 8, Mitch Wishnowsky 8, Taybor Pepper 8, Sne Burks 7, , Jimmie Ward 6, Hufanga 6, Hyder 6, Martin 5, McGlinchey 5, Banks 5, Burford 5, Nick Zakelj 5, Jaylon Moore 5, Lenoir 4, Warner 3, Gipson 3, Omenihu 3, Ebukam 3, Kroft 3, Ridgeway 2 , Givens 2, Bosa 1, Jackson 1

Wishnowsky tried the same “banana” punt that caused a muff against the Chiefs. Return man Brandon Powell had trouble with it, but was able to catch it cleanly. Tarvarius Moore and Womack served as punt-covering shooters, while Womack tackled Powell at the 9-yard line on Wishnowsky’s final punt.

(Top photo by Jeff Wilson Jr. and Christian McCaffrey: Harry How/Getty Images)

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