Sport How 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan made Isaiah Simmons' NFL debut a miserable one
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“The ability to put specific people in great positions for success and specifically gameplan off of like one or two defenders. I remember gameplans, he would be like ‘This 3-technique, we’re going to make his day a living hell.’”
That’s Browns TEwhat made Kyle Shanahan so great when he played under him in Atlanta. I couldn’t help but think of that quote while I was watching rookie LB Isaiah Simmons get dogged by the Shanahan and the 49ers offense on Sunday before getting benched in what ended up being a Cardinals win.
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The numbers were rough for Simmons. The No. 8 pick in the 2020 NFL draft played only 18 defensive snaps but still managed to give up three receptions for 86 yards (which doesn’t include a 15-yard penalty for a horse-collar tackle) and two touchdowns. Jimmy Garaoppolo had a perfect passer rating when targeting him, per Pro Football Focus.
It appeared Shanahan was going after the rookie whenever he was out there. Simmons was targeted on three of his eight coverage snaps; and, really, he could have been targeted a few more times because he was having a hard time sticking withand even on the plays where the ball wasn’t thrown his way.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways Shanahan picked on the rookie.
We’ll start with a play that was actually defended well by Arizona, because it sets up a play, on the next drive, that isn’t defended so well. The 49ers motion Kittle across the formation, which forces the Cardinals linebackers to shift, leaving Simmons on the weak side.
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The play ends up going away from Simmons, but it provides Shanahan with a key piece of information for the next drive: He knows if he deploys that same formation and uses that same motion, Simmons will be left as the weakside linebacker, making him responsible for RB Raheem Mostert in coverage. That’s exactly what happens…
Simmons is a good athlete, especially when running in a straight line, but he’s not agile enough to cover a back like Mostert in space. Unsurprisingly, Mostert easily loses him with an angle route and it’s off to the races…
Later in the game, Shanahan uses a quick snap to throw the rookie off. As soon as the 49ers get set, the ball is snapped, leaving no time for pre-snap communication. Simmons picks up the wrong receiver, leaving Jerick McKinnon wide open.
Simmons did fare a bit better in the run game but he wasn’t exactly good. When the 49ers ran in his direction, he was blown off the ball. On one of the first plays of the game, Kittle drives him back a good five yards, but the Cardinals defensive line forces a cutback by the running back, so it doesn’t end up mattering.
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Later on, Simmons was driven into the ground by a double team block, though he could have gotten some help by the linebacker scraping over the top.
Simmons’ lack of play strength even showed up in the passing game. On the first snap of the game, Kittle bullied him to get open on a quick out route. The rookie recovered to make the tackle but was flagged for doing it illegally.
That was one of three tackles for Simmons on the day. Another came on a toss play where the 49ers just didn’t bother to block him.
His third tackle was his most impressive, but he got a lot of help from a defensive tackle, who cut off the lineman responsible for blocking him. What Simmons did after that, though, showed off his burst.
One bad performance against one of the brightest offensive coaches in the history of the NFL — and one who is particularly hard on linebackers — is not enough to write off Simmons as a pro. Things will get easier and the game will slow down for him. But, given the fact that the Cardinals drafted him to help cover tight ends and running backs, his poor showing is a bit disappointing if not expected.
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