After Sunday’s Week 1 loss to the Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was criticized for his aggressive play calls and his aversion to punting on fourth down. We break down each of the Niners’ fourth down attempts, and the plays that led up to Shanahan’s decisions.
The San Francisco 49ers didn’t lose to the Carolina Panthers in Week 1 because head coach Kyle Shanahan kept his offense on the field on fourth downs.
But it sure didn’t help.
The 49ers defense was surprisingly stout against Carolina’s offensive attack, but their offensive woes allowed the Panthers to put 23 points on the board — 20 of which came off turnovers or failed fourth-down attempts.
The 49ers ended the game with two conversions on 11 third-down attempts, and one conversion on four fourth-down attempts.
These are numbers that will need to improve if the 49ers plan on winning games this season.
Let’s take a look at each of Shanahan’s fourth-down tries, beginning with the one attempt that Shanahan later admitted was a mistake.
The 49ers start the drive on their 38-yard line after safety Jacquiski Tartt’s impressive interception. The 49ers are down 7-0, with 9:46 left in the second quarter. After the Niners’ first third-down conversion of the day, they have the ball at midfield, with just over eight minutes left in the half.
On first down, running back Matt Breida takes advantage of a decent hole and picks up five yards on the run:
On second down, quarterback Brian Hoyer hits wide receiver Marquise Goodwin for a 1-yard reception:
On third down with four yards to go, Hoyer doesn’t look to running back Carlos Hyde after he fakes the handoff, and instead throws to tight end George Kittle, who is upended for no gain:
Shanahan decides to go for it on 4th-and-4, and the Panthers call a timeout to regroup. After the break, the 49ers line up in shotgun with 11 personnel.
After the ball is snapped, Hyde attempts to pick up blitzing Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis. Wide receiver Trent Taylor lets himself be rerouted in front of linebacker Luke Kuechly, which allows safety Roman Harper to leave Taylor to cut in front of the intended receiver Kittle.
Hoyer sees this and doesn’t throw the pass, but is immediately sacked by Davis:
After the game, Shanahan stated, “I thought we were moving the ball pretty well and came up short there on third down, and I just, I believed we were going to get it. I had a lot confidence that we would and it just didn’t work out.”
Prior to this drive, the 49ers had yet to convert a third-down attempt. Although the Niners were able to move the chains once on third down, they weren’t “moving the ball pretty well” on the drive; the drive’s six plays netted the 49ers just 18 total yards before Davis’ sack of Hoyer.
Shanahan’s confidence was misplaced, and he was instead likely trying to capitalize on the momentum of his defense’s turnover. However, by turning the ball over on downs, the 49ers gave the Panthers the momentum — and field position — they needed to drive 27 yards and kick a field goal that turned the matchup into a two-score game.