49ers Mailbag: Offense nears NFL record

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49ers Mailbag: Offense nears NFL record

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers' defense is one game away from setting an NFL record for fewest rushing touchdowns allowed in a season.But the San Francisco offense is also on the verge of carving out a spot in the NFL record book, too.The 49ers have not committed a turnover in the past 18 quarters. They have committed only 10 turnovers this season. If they make it through Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams without giving the ball away, the 49ers will tie the NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season.The New England Patriots set the mark last year with 10. The 1982 Kansas City Chiefs committed 12 turnovers.And that leads us into our first question from the 49ers Mailbag . . .

Do you think the offense will open up during the playoffs? (Mike Brown Sr.)
If that occurs, something will have gone terribly wrong for the 49ers, and their playoff stay will be a short one.After 15 games, it's very apparent what works for the 49ers. And a wide-open, spread-'em-out, throw-the-ball-around-the-field approach is not the formula.Quarterback Alex Smith is not going to be throwing for 350 yards a game in the playoffs. But what he can do is to continue to do what he has done this season. He's been one of the best in league history at avoiding turnovers.Smith has thrown five interceptions and lost just two fumbles on the season. The 49ers lead the NFL with a plus-26 turnover margin.Do you ever envision the defense switching to a 4-3 to utilize the strengths of Aldon Smith and get him on the field more? (Shawn Joseph)
No, because I think the 49ers believe that Aldon Smith is eventually going to be better-suited to standing up as an outside linebacker. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has a long history in the 3-4 defense, so he's not going to change overnight.And where the 49ers really succeeded this season was allowing Smith to ease into the transition. The coaches had him concentrate as a rookie on rushing the passer as a defensive end. During practices and some game situations, he worked on his techniques as an outside linebacker, too. He played 10 snaps of outside linebacker last week against Seattle when Ahmad Brooks was out with an elbow injury.Look for Smith to start next season as outside linebacker. Brooks is a free agent, so his return is not guaranteed. But if Brooks is back, there's a strong chance Smith would take over for Parys Haralson as the every-down guy.Any word on Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson deals for next season? (David Caracas)
Nothing is going to happen until after the season. Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson are likely to hit the open market. Both are going to be looking for the kind of free-agent love that they did not get a year ago.Hey, let's face it, Rogers and Goldson were very disappointed with what occurred in free agency. Rogers signed a one-year contract after looking for a lucrative multi-year deal. Goldson was said to be looking for "Eric Weddle money." Their stock is high right now.Both Rogers and Goldson want to remain with the 49ers. But the 49ers are trying to follow the mold of the New England Patriots -- a franchise that does not regularly compete with the over-spenders in the league. Rogers and Goldson might have to make sacrifices to return to the 49ers.I think there's a better chance Goldson re-signs. If Rogers leaves, the 49ers feel pretty good about Tarell Brown and Chris Cullliver as the starters with Tramaine Brock as the No. 3. Then, they can add a Carlos Rogers-esque veteran who slips through the cracks while also investing a draft pick in a corner, too.

Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

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Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

There is no shortage of blame to go around for the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl 51.

The Falcons built a 28-3 lead in the middle of the third quarter and let it slip away, ultimately falling to the New England Patriots, 34-28, in overtime.

Matt Ryan voiced one previously undisclosed factor in the collapse this week in an interview with Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, pointing the finger at the new coach of the 49ers.

Kyle Shanahan has been the focus of a lot of the blame, but critique from the league MVP was a new one.

The Falcons quarterback faulted his former offensive coordinator for taking too much time to relay the play calls. Ryan said he did not have enough time to change any of the plays – presumably checking out of called pass plays to run the ball.

Here’s what Ryan told Prisco:

"Kyle's play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in. As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you're talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, 'There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.' You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

"With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You're not being aggressive not running it there."

The 49ers can point to mismanagement of the clock for their own Super Bowl heartbreak. The 49ers’ offense had the perfect play call at the perfect time against the Baltimore Ravens late in Super Bowl XLVII.

But with the play clock striking :00, coach Jim Harbaugh was forced to call a timeout from the sideline. A split-second later, the ball was snapped and it appeared the quarterback run would have easily ended up with Colin Kaepernick in the end zone.

Much like after the 49ers’ loss, the Falcons left plenty of room for second-guessing.

Two of Shanahan’s plays calls, which directly led to the collapse, will forever be scrutinized.

The first came with 8:31 remaining in regulation and the Falcons holding a 28-12 lead. On third and 1 from the Atlanta 36, Shanahan did not remain conservative with an expected run play. He swung for the fence.

Receiver Aldrick Robinson, whom the 49ers added this offseason as a free-agent pickup, was breaking free past the Patriots secondary for what could have been a touchdown. But just as Ryan was unloading, New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower hit him and forced the fumble. Running back Devonta Freeman whiffed on blitz pickup, which would have provided Ryan with enough time to target Robinson deep.

Ryan’s explanation does not appear applicable on this play, though. In watching the replay, the Falcons broke the huddle with more than 25 seconds remaining on the play clock and the snap occurred with :15 to spare.

The other questionable sequence came after the Falcons – leading by eight points -- got to the New England 22-yard line with less than five minutes to play. The Falcons lost 1 yard on a run play on first down.

On second down, Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss. Before that play, the Falcons broke the huddle with :19 on the play clock. The snap occurred with :04 remaining. The game clock was running, so the Falcons had reason to attempt to burn as much clock as possible.

In the fourth quarter, the Falcons never seemed rushed to get off a play. The closest they came to delay-of-game penalties were when they snapped the ball with :04 on the one play and :03 another time. The majority of their snaps occurred with :10 or more seconds to spare.

If the Falcons were guilty of anything when it came to the play clock, it was that the offense did not waste more time. After New England pulled to within 28-9 late in the third quarter, the Falcons ran only six offensive plays while the game clock was running.

On those six plays, the Falcons snapped the ball with :13, :09, :14, :20, :13 and :04 remaining on the play clock. If they’d snapped the ball with one second remaining each time, they could have shortened the game by 1 minute, 7 seconds. The Patriots scored the game-tying touchdown with :57 remaining in regulation.

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Until now, Kyle Shanahan’s hiring by the San Fracisco 49ers looked great because of his two-and-a-half predecessors – the last days of Jim Harbaugh, the misplaced concept of Jim Tomsula and the couldn’t-make-chicken-marsala-out-of-old-Kleenex problems surrounding Chip Kelly.

But now, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has told us all that Shanahan has a gift we in the Bay Area know all too well. Specifically, that Shanahan took too long to call plays to the Super Bowl the Falcons vomited up to the New England Patriots.

Now who does that remind you of, over and over again?

Yes, some things are evergreen, and too many options in this overly technological age seems to be one of them. Data in is helpful, but command going out is what bells the cow. Ryan said Shanahan was, well, almost Harbaugh-tastic in his timing.

“Kyle’s play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in,” Ryan told Bleacher Report. “As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you’re talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, ‘There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.’ You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

“With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You’re not being aggressive not running it there.”

And the reason this matters is because the Atlanta Shanahan had multiple good options on every play. In San Francsco, at least in the short term, he’ll be dealing with minimal options. That could speed up his choices, as in “What the hell, we don’t have Julio Jones.” But it could also mean more delays, as in, “Okay, him . . . no, maybe not . . . no, he just screwed up that play last series . . . oh, damn it, time out!”

In short, it’s growing pains season here, children. On the field, on the sidelines, and maybe even in Kyle Shanahan’s head.