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The Real Reason the 49ers Offense Has Turned it Around

Kyle Shanahan has his reasons for why the 49ers offense has turned it around, but I think he misses a crucial point.

Two weeks ago, everything was bleak for the 49ers.

Losing to the Cardinals embarrassingly without Kyler Murray at home completely deflated any notion that the 49ers were a playoff caliber team. 

Two weeks later, the 49ers see themselves right there as playoff contenders. That loss to the Cardinals just might have been the wake up call they needed. When the 49ers hosted the Rams, they got back to their roots offensively. They put on a full commitment to running the football, and sure enough good things happened. Most of this season's woes for the 49ers have stemmed from the offense. Now they are suddenly clicking on all cylinders the past two games. 

So what has changed?

“I just think we've all gotten a little bit better in what we're doing," said Kyle Shanahan. "It's not much of a new way that we've been going about it. I think we’ve just been doing it at a consistent, higher level. When we haven't ran the ball as well, which we haven't, yesterday at times and verse the Rams. But we've been able to move the chains on third down, which allows you to keep smashing the ball as you say and playing smash-mouth football. But it's not like we're just gashing people in the run game. 

"We're finding a way to stay out there. Whether it's been the run or the pass game. And I think at the same time, our defenses have been stopping guys at a higher level. I also think we've gotten turnovers on special teams and defense. And it also has been very big that these last couple of weeks our offense hasn't turned the ball over at all either. So when you do all that stuff, you do get a lot more plays, a lot more drives and that helps everybody. Coaches and players get in a better rhythm.”

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Shanahan is right in his answer, but he really should have emphasized the real reason the 49ers offense has turned it around.

It is the fact that Shanahan himself has stopped trying so hard to be the smartest man in the room. Yes, the players are executing better and playing up to their level has certainly helped. But all season long the offense has seen players in and out of the lineup. No matter what changes were made for whatever reason, the offense remained its stagnate self. The only common denominator here was Shanahan. 

Facing the Rams really unlocked his mind block. He knew that was a game the 49ers had to have or else their season was over. And it is not like Shanahan needs much motivation to be at the top of his game against an elite opponent on primetime, especially when it is against Sean McVay. Shanahan just refuses to let his understudy own him and that drive is what forced him back to the basics. Sometimes you need to face a familiar opponent to get back on track. Look at how the Chiefs look alive again after demolishing the Raiders. Facing familiar teams can be the remedy for an ailing offense.

Shanahan finally realized that running the football is what makes the offense run so smoothly. The crazy part is that they could have been doing that all season long. Just because you go down a score or two doesn't mean the run game should get abandoned. If it's 14-0, the 49ers can still score points on the ground. They can't just have Jimmy Garoppolo drop back 50 times and expect him to execute consistently. He needs the run to aid him. 

The offense is no longer getting too cute or straightforward with pass attempts. That isn't the 49ers' strength. They have one of the greatest run blocking units in the game with Trent Williams, George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk and wide receivers who can get aggressive. All of these components equate to a nasty running attack and Shanahan has acknowledged that is what will make everything easier.

It allows the defense longer rest periods and time to make adjustments. Garoppolo no longer will need more than 25 pass attempts. His sweet spot is 20 to 25 to make everything go smoothly. The more throws he is asked to make, the more of a chance he is to make a mistake. Right now, he is playing his role soundly.

Everyone is playing better, but it is Shanahan who has elevated profusely, which explains the offensive turnaround.