49ers Rewind: Is Brandon Aiyuk in Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse?

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (11) following an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

The San Francisco 49ers started their season with a win for only the second time in five years when they defeated the Detroit Lions 41-33 on Sunday.

In many ways, this victory felt like a defeat due to the loss of Jason Verrett for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee. Raheem Mostert was also lost for the season. The running back announced early Tuesday that he has chosen to have season-ending surgery on his knee.

In addition to the injuries, the Lions were able to mount a spirited comeback attempt that has left a lot of doubt on the defense heading into a week two matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Let’s take a look at a few of the top points of discussion that have come out of Sunday’s victory.

1. The 49ers’ defense nearly gave the game away.

There was a lot that went into the way this game ended, and we shouldn’t forget the San Francisco defense held Detroit to only 17 points over the first 55 minutes of this game.

It’s not unusual for a defense to back off late in a game with a 24-point lead. With the game seemingly in hand, the 49ers began to play soft zone coverage which is designed to keep the ball inbounds and the clock running. Although they would allow the Lions to move the ball down the field for a touchdown to make the score 41-25, the Detroit possession took nearly four minutes off the game clock in the process.

This is where things went sideways for San Francisco. On the ensuing onside kick, George Kittle misplayed the hop and the ball bounced off his facemask and was recovered by Detroit. With less than two minutes left in the game, securing the kick likely ends the game and any worry about a Lions comeback.

Instead, the 49ers’ defense had to go right back onto the field. With the injury to Verrett occurring on the previous possession, nearly all of the starters were taken out of the game at this point. Detroit was again able to exploit the soft zone coverage and pull to within eight points.

The defense would again find itself right back on the field when Deebo Samuel fumbled the ball while nearing a first down that again would have ended the game.

Forced back onto the field once again, San Francisco would continue the same playing soft zone defense and allow the Lions to drive down to the 25-yard line. At that point, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans would dial up the pressure and the defense would force Goff into three incompletions to seal the victory.

Should this be cause for concern moving forward? Yes and no. The defense as a whole is very good, but losing Verrett will be a blow. The secondary will be ok with rookie Deommodore Lenoir on one side, but the 49ers need Emmanuel Moseley to come back healthy. If this happens, the secondary should be in decent shape.

The philosophy of the current front office in San Francisco is to build from the front back. This will now be put to the test over the final 17 weeks of the regular season.

2. Is Brandon Aiyuk in Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse?

After having a standout rookie season, there were high expectations for Aiyuk in year two. Against Detroit, Aiyuk wouldn’t touch the field until the 49ers’ third offensive possession, their first lasted one play due to a fumbled snap.

Free-agent acquisition Trent Sherfield would be the first wide receiver to pair up with Deebo Samuel. Although Sherfield would play only one more snap than Aiyuk, 27 to 26, he would be targeted three times and make two receptions for 23 yards and a touchdown. Aiyuk would not have a target in the game.

Shanahan was asked on Monday if there was anything other than the injury that he noted following the game that led to Aiyuk’s playing time being less than expected, “No. I just think he’s got a better person behind him this year in training camp,” Shanahan said. “We wanted to split time like that. I thought Aiyuk would get a few more punt returns and I thought he’d get a few more targets, but when guys are rotating that much, 50/50, I don’t really ask much who’s in, I’m good with either one of them getting the ball, whoever is in there at the time. It doesn’t matter to me.”

After re-watching the game, Shanahan’s explanation makes sense. Aiyuk and Sherfield ran roughly the same number of routes, and for the most part, they could be found clearing out the deep coverage for underneath routes by Deebo Samuel or George Kittle.

Another thing to note with Aiyuk, the bulk of his production in 2020 came with both George Kittle and Deebo Samuel out and Nick Mullens throwing him the ball. With Kittle and Samuel healthy, there may not be as many targets this season.

3. Azeez Al-Shaair had a very good game.

The SAM linebacker in the 49ers’ base defense usually is a bit of an afterthought, however, the Lions desire to run the ball and a groin injury to Dre Greenlaw resulted in Azeez Al-Shaair playing 72 of the 49ers 90 defensive snaps on Sunday.

Credited with seven total tackles which would tie him for second with safety Jaquiski Tartt, Al-Shaair would make a number of big plays throughout the game. He would drop Lions running back D’Andre Swift for a loss of eight on Detroit’s second offensive possession of the game, forcing a long field goal attempt that would be no good.

On the Lions’ final possession of the game, Al-Shaair would knock the ball out of the hands of Detroit tight end T.J. Hockenson to force the Lions into a fourth and nine situation that they would not be able to convert.

4. Nick Bosa and Dee Ford are back.

In their first game together since the opening game of the 2020 season, Nick Bosa and Dee Ford would each record a sack but their impact on the game was felt in other areas as well.

On Detroit’s first possession, Bosa would knife inside on a fourth and one play. Bosa’s action forced Lions running back Jamaal Williams to try and cut to the outside. Williams would slip and be stopped short of the first down.

Late in the first half and facing third and eighth, Jared Goff’s throw over the middle would be intercepted and returned for a touchdown by 49er linebacker Dre Greenlaw. It was Dee Ford’s ability to drive the Lions’ right tackle back into Goff that played the pivotal role in forcing the turnover.

With questions in the secondary due to the loss of Jason Verrett for the season, the 49ers’ defense needs Bosa and Ford to play like this the rest of the season to take the pressure off the secondary.

This article has 32 Comments

  1. I’m not sure about Kyle’s doghouse but it seems like there’s always someone in it. Maybe he doesn’t quite get players like he lets on. We do know that Kyle missed out on a lot of head coaching opportunities simply because he came off as arrogant. I wonder how much of that transcends to the players. For a young guy who should be able to relate, he doesn’t seem to build a lot of trust or loyalty with his players.

    Anyway, my main takeaway and point was the defense was gassed again late in the 4th. Yes you can point to time of possession, momentum, etc., but this was something the super depth on D-line was supposed to fix. I wasn’t convinced we had some sort of all-time D-line like some others were, and it remains to be seen if this defense can show up and dominate when it matters most late in the game against quick strike offenses. If we’re getting gassed, it’s time to mix in some timely K’Wuan Williams corner blitzes and get off the field. They played pretty vanilla last Sunday.

    That said, Ebukam came through big time. Doesn’t really make up for the loss of DeFo, but he had just enough in the tank there at the end to bring pressure on that critical 4th down.

    Another observation is that we need to start taking special teams more seriously. Not sure why Lynch/Shanahan don’t care about the return game, but to have no threat in terms of a big return is a wasted opportunity, in my opinion. If you can make a roster spot available for Jalen Hurd, you can certainly leave one open for a big threat return man.

    Last but not least, the Wide 9 scheme is going to have to get tossed in the trash pile if Kinlaw isn’t healthy. Getting gashed up the middle by the Lions is definitely something to be ashamed of.

    Luckily, we get to face off with a couple JV squads to start the year and get our bearings under us.

  2. The comeback was a blessing. Teaches the 49ers to finish out opponents and never let up. That will help in future games. The part of the defense that worries me is the interior rush defense. I thought that d-line would be a lot better. The 49ers gave up 4.8 ypc rushing which was tied for 7th worst in the league. For all the talk of the great d-line they sure didn’t show up in Game 1. The D gave up over 300 passing yards and over 100 rushing yards to the Detroit Lions. I sure didn’t expect that.

    As far as Aiyuk I do think he’s in Shanny’s doghouse. Not sure I really understand how Shanahan operates. I recall a story where Shanahan and Matt Ryan did not like each other. Dan Quinn called an offseason meeting with both of them to tell them to get over it and be professionals. The next year Ryan had a career year and the Falcons went to the Superbowl. Maybe Shanahan needs some kind of reality check on how he handles certain players.

    1. Hey 1.6 Traitor … I hope your folks enjoyed collecting all of those useless signatures. You did us pro mask mandate and pro vaccine mandate folks a favor, so thanks for that!

      1. Newsom is in a stronger position tonight, than he was on election day, so I wanted to offer debt of gratitude to you, Gavin Nuisance, and the rest of those who supported this sham recall election.

        What seemed like a waste of money, now feels like money well spent. Californians just sent an important message to people around this country who actually believe in science, and common sense policies aimed at protecting it’s citizens.

        Exit Polls showed that support for science based policies aimed at slowing the spread of this deadly virus are not only popular, but critical for the health of our state moving forward. In fact, policies like mask mandates and vaccine mandates, we’re the overwhelming reason that Californians rejected this recall.

        Good night, and God Bless California!

        1. What seemed like a waste of money, now feels like money well spent.

          IDK Reasons, I’ve heard reports of upwards of $300 million. Just think what kind of roads Priline could have in front of his house for that.

          In any case, for us Niner fans all roads lead to the Super Bowl!

          1. That’s true, Rib, $300 Million is a lot of money, but it’s worth noting that California is currently running a record, staggering, $75.7B budget surplus. That’s $75.7 BILLION with a B!

            The big question for me is – As the most populous state in the union, and by a large margin, is $300 Million worth the price of sending this powerful electoral message to the rest of our country:

            Gavin Newsom: “I want to focus on what we said yes to as a state,” Newsom said of the election’s results. “We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic. We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression. We said yes to women’s fundamental, constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body and her fate and future. We said yes to diversity. We said yes to inclusion.”

            I say that, with all of the nonsensical, anti-science policies currently being pushed around the country, as well as the BIG LIE, and assault on women’s rights, I say YES, at this critical time, that’s money well spent!

      2. This is my second request to leave political arguments off the blog. As for the political screen names, if they are posting about football their comments aren’t a problem.

  3. Jack, like most people I’m concerned about the D line but I’ve read several different explanations that essentially say it’s an easy fix. What’s your take on the d line?

    As regards Aiyuk, I’m surprised that some fans are tending to blame Shanahan. Although we don’t know exactly what the situation is here, it was clear that Sherfield had a better preseason than Aiyuk and that Aiyuk was working his way back from an injury so maybe the issue is exactly like Shanahan stated. On the other hand some people have stated that Aiyuk has not been blocking well. Either of these situations would seem to justify Aiyuk not getting a lot of playing time. One thing I’m sure it’s not is a personality issue. Shanahan is a top coach with exact and high expectations and it’s up to the players to meet those.

    1. I think you’re overthinking this. The team no longer has James to clear out the D. Aiyuk and Sheffield split duties due to his injury. I don’t think it’s anything more than that.

    2. They need the linebackers to do a better job of filling their gaps, plus Kerr and Givens have struggled against the run all camp.

      1. “I think DeMeco would tell you the same thing, it’s not as much about tweaking things, it’s about doing things better,” Shanahan said on a conference call with reporters. “There was a number of things that we’ve done here for going into our fifth year in a row early in that game, especially those three runs up the middle. Just a couple of guys not being in the right gap and it wasn’t one culprit. It was three different guys on three different plays. I think they had like 110 yards rushing and I think they got 60 something yards on three of the same play which were all very similar.

        As per NBC Sports

        I’d sounds like a film session and making sure of proper positioning can nip this in the bud. Now if it continues….

        1. It’s mostly about a lack of discipline and gap integrity. We/ve seen how effective this wide-9 scheme can be when guys are handling their assignments properly. The reality is that when defensive players fail to execute their assignments properly, defenses struggle, regardless of scheme.

          I have all the confidence in the world that the Niners defense will iron out this issue. The 49ers success or failure this season is still mostly hinges on the health of this team. If they keep losing their best players to season ending injuries, their chances of getting to the Super Bowl are not very good.

          I don’t believe it’s smart to start pulling most of your starters before you put a team away, in a game like we saw on Sunday. HOWEVER …. I do believe it’s absolutely critical to get a handful of your most important starters out, especially those who have a history of season ending injuries.

          Kyle needs to have enough confidence in at least one of his backup CB’s to come in as a substitute for Verrett, late in the 3rd QTR! And Kyle needs to have confidence in his back up DE’s ability to come in as substitutes for Bosa and Ford, before a critical injury to one of the few irreplaceable starters ands up putting in motion the snowball effect like we saw on Sunday. You are better off with second and third string players who are going at full speed, than you are with your top players throttling down their intensity in order to avoid being injured. That’s almost always a recipe for disaster, as we saw on Sunday.

          Kyle ought to understand this by now, IMO.

          1. I’m sure he does understand this and a lot more since he’s a football coach at the highest level and we are just fans imHo.

          2. Another thing that is bothering me: If you have Super Bowl aspirations, and there are serious questions about your top backup CB’s during training camp, you HAVE TO do what it takes to shore up that position. You can’t go into week 1 without a single competent backup at a key position like outside CB. And I’m sorry but rookie CB – Lenoir, despite having a bright future, shouldn’t be counted on to take over for your #1 CB in week one, if the situation presents itself, especially if the main reason for a lack of depth is the miss-allocation of resources at the QB position. If your team has serious Super Bowl aspirations, it makes ZERO sense to me that you would use up $32+M , plus three 1st round picks and a 3rd rounder, at the QB position, if you don’t have quality backups at the interior of the OL, or the CB position.

            1. And why are ShanaLynch using a 2nd round pick on a OG who doesn’t fit their system? Or a 3rd round pick on a RB who was a healthy scratch to start the season, when they have had an outstanding history of success at finding RB’s with both late round picks, and UDFA’s?

              To be honest, I’m really starting to question whether Kyle has the right stuff to be Head Coach of an NFL team. I hate to say that, because I think he has a lot of strengths, but I think he might be too hard headed and stubborn for the job.

              Let me be clear – when it comes to play calling and play designing, I think Kyle just might be the very best in the business. He runs a QB friendly – run first system, that has proven to be one of the most successful systems currently operating in the NFL. And even though he has stood on the strengths of his base offensive concepts, including his stretch, outside-zone rushing concepts, as well as play-action passing, he tends to stay a step ahead of his competition when it comes to evolving his offensive schemes.

              But I’ve seen a lot of serious red flags when it comes to decision making as a Head Coach. I hate the way they ended up handling their first round draft choice. They end up looking like they bungled the entire process. I have also seen zero evidence in Kyle’s ability to actually develop a QB as a HC. I am not a fan of his chosen QB Coach, Rich Scangarello. This is a guy who was hired by the Denver Broncos as their offensive coordinator as recently as 2019, only to be fired less than a year later, after 3 different QB’s failed to finish in the top 25 in Passer Rating, and the Broncos finished dead last in several offensive categories, including passing TD’s, and were in the bottom 10 in Passing YPG, QB Comp%, and Passer Rating. And this is the guy that is tasked with developing trey Lance? Come on Kyle!

              1. I sure hope Kyle proves me wrong on this, because I absolutely love his offense, and I love my 49ERS! However, I am also a realist, and I call it like I see it.

            2. So who would you have signed with that money freed up by getting rid of Garoppolo? Also, what would you do at the QB position if you are getting rid of Garoppolo? I don’t see what your logic is quite honestly. If they didn’t have Garoppolo they’d be sitting here with a rookie who hasn’t played a season in over a year and a journeyman. To use your own words: If your team has serious Super Bowl aspirations, it makes ZERO sense to leave yourself in a position where your season can go down the tubes with one injury at the QB position. That is what has happened two out of the last 3 years which is why they added to the QB depth chart instead of subtracting. As for my first question, there isn’t anyone you can or could have added in FA at the CB position who would have as big of an impact as keeping quality depth at the QB position. This team has rarely put many resources into the CB position because they see it as a complimentary role to the front seven. You can disagree with that if you like but it’s worked for them for the most part. They went to a SB with a FA coming off an Achilles tear a year earlier and an undrafted FA starting at CB. The have Mosely whenever he can get past the knee issue, 3 vets and two draft picks. They are arguably deeper at the position now than they were in 2019.

              Your comments about Shanahan are also not accurate in my opinion. He has had some level of success with every QB who has ever played in his system and same with the RB position. As for bungling the first round pick, we are one game into the regular season. You might just be overreacting a little bit. The pick was made for the future with the ability to use him in certain situations now. Shanahan and Lynch have both been forthcoming and clear about this since they traded up in the draft. The plan has always been to go with Garoppolo to start the the season and they haven’t wavered from that. The reason for that is also pretty obvious: they win 75% of the time when Garoppolo is the starter. I’ve never bought into the claims by some media folks and fans that Shanahan doesn’t like Garoppolo because he doesn’t make decisions like a guy who doesn’t like Garoppolo. He seems to like him a lot quite honestly and the trade was made for the long term health of the position and because Garoppolo hasn’t been able to stay healthy which has torpedoed their season two out of the past three years.

              Just my two cents but you seem to overreact quite a lot. Let’s see what happens the rest of the season before jumping off the bridge ok?

  4. LOL/LMAO. Now our roads will never be repaired. LOL LOL LOL. Back to sports…. I predict the 49ers will have a big day against Philly 41 -17. 5 TD and 2 FG. Coincidentally 5 is the number of Quidiot , traitor , anti science , covid deniers who died of covid in the last few weeks. Darwin is alive and well . LOL

  5. Jack, I agree that the D was tired at the end of the game and was put on the field by our own offense’s mistakes.
    But what about the 1st Q when Goff marched down the field twice with no opposition. Did you analyze the film on that?

    1. Those are concerning, but they made the plays necessary to hold them the first two times. Bosa made a terrific play to stop the 4th down on the first attempt, and they did a good job of holding Detroit to a FG on the next. They caught a break when it was missed.

  6. Don’t think things are that bad with Aiyuk for him to be in Kyle’s doghouse. Jack’s observations are helpful — however Aiyuk was not even targeted once. Appears to me there is some minor issue that Kyle has with Aiyuk, and may be trying to nip it at the bud by sending a message. Maybe insufficient preparation of the game plan for the Lions game that may have shown up during practice. The vets Sherfield and Sanu have set a high standard in professionalism. We’ll rely on Kyle’s trusted agent, Wes, to get Aiyuk back on track.

  7. As much as Kinlaw has been criticized for his pass rushing ability, he is really good against the run and they missed him a lot against Detroit. He leaves a big hole when he’s not out there. It’s going to be a tough chore to stop the run against Philly. They have a pretty good Oline and ran all over the Falcons last week. Have to tighten up the run defense this week or they could be facing an upset.

    1. Yes. This past game reminded me of how wide the gaps are in the wide-9. If Kinlaw can hold his own and then some in these wide gaps then he is definitely making a major contribution. But I wonder if Buckner wouldn’t be able to do the same and he adds the ability to rush the passer. My biggest objection is how overpaid Armstead is.

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