Heading into a short week, expect coach 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan to throttle back on his use of do-everything running back Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey rushed for 116 yards on 20 carries with a 14-yard touchdown run in a 30-23 road win over the Los Angeles Rams, piggy-backing off his 152-yard performance against Pittsburgh in Week 1. He also caught three passes for 19 yards.
After playing all 57 snaps against the Rams, McCaffrey has been off the field for only 10 plays through two games — having played 58 of 68 snaps against the Steelers in the opener. He leads the NFL with 268 yards rushing and averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
Shanahan had some regret about McCaffrey going wire-to-wire against the Rams, with Elijah Mitchell not playing at all after getting 10 snaps against the Steelers. Getting McCaffrey a rushing title isn’t a priority as much as having him upright deep into the season.
“We’ve definitely got to get Elijah in there more and do better with our rotation than we did yesterday,” Shanahan said Monday during a conference call with local media. “That wasn’t the plan going in. It just ended up that way and I’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Meanwhile, Shanahan had no injury updates on wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (shoulder) and cornerback Ambry Thomas (knee). Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir passed a concussion evaluation during the game and will have another Monday.
Shanahan said during the course of a game, position coaches are responsible for rotations, although he occasionally will want a player in for a specific play. The 49ers’ run-game coordinator is Chris Foerster, with Bobby Turner and Anthony Lynn having a hand in coaching running backs.
“You can ask for guys specifically for certain plays if you’re a play-caller but you’re not keeping guys fresh and rotating and stuff like that,” Shanahan said. “Position coaches do that, but for him not to get in, I definitely should have noticed and asked for him.”
It was the first time McCaffrey played every snap for the 49ers. He did it 11 times in 2018-19 with the Carolina Panthers, three of those in 2019 when he became the third running back in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season (1,387 yards rushing, 1,005 receiving).
Mitchell had five carries for 10 yards in the opener against Pittsburgh but came into the season healthy following an adductor injury. The third year back has been one of the NFL’s most productive runners when healthy with 1,257 yards rushing and an average of 4.9 yards per attempt in 17 games.
Beyond that, Mitchell in training camp showed he could circle out of the backfield as a receiver and even catch the ball downfield — a skill he said has come from watching McCaffrey.
Also available are Jordan Mason and Ty Davis-Price. Davis-Price has been inactive through the first two games.
McCaffrey has had breakaway runs in each of the first two games — 65 yards against the Steelers for a touchdown and a 51-yard gain against the Rams. He believes being immersed in the system for an entire offseason after arriving in an in-season trade a year ago has enhanced his ability to be productive.
“I think it’s huge,” McCaffrey said after the Rams game. “You run with your eyes and your feet follow. Understanding where to put your eyes on every run and what the scheme is trying to accomplish is so important. Just having more wisdom under my belt is very important.”
Purdy’s misfires: Quarterback Brock Purdy missed potential deep strikes to Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and Jauan Jennings. Any one of them could have either resulted in touchdowns or set up touchdowns. Hitting even one of three could have made things more comfortable for the 49ers.
Shanahan, noting Purdy’s efficiency, wasn’t overly critical of a quarterback who has won every regular season start he’s made for the 49ers.
“I thought two were harder than the other, but I do think Brock had a hell of a game,” Shanahan said. “That’s the only thing we can say negative about his game are those misses. They’re always big ones, especially when it’s down the field because it’s usually points. He played a pretty good game.”
The 49ers offensive line allowed just one sack of quarterback Brock Purdy in Sunday’s 30-23 win over the Rams. Getty Images
Offensive line progress: After giving up three sacks to T.J. Watt on the opener, Purdy was sacked just once against the Rams. The 49ers also held three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald without a sack or even a tackle.
Suddenly, no one was talking about right tackle Colton McKivitz and his viability as a starter.
“I thought we did a much better job in pass protection, to be sure,” Shanahan said. “Took a step forward. Still have a lot to clean up and hopefully we can keep taking a step forward each week and do better Thursday.”
Slowing the bandwagon: The Giants come to town after a 31-28 come-from-behind win over Arizona, but lost the services of running back Saquon Barkley to an ankle injury.
Barkley needed to be helped from the field. Giants coach Brian Daboll told reporters he’s “hopeful” of a positive outcome and that Barkley avoided serious injury. But it seems unlikely Barkley would face the 49ers.
With the Giants (1-1) and Arizona (0-2) as the next two games, Shanahan recoiled at the thought of his team assuming it would run the table on its first four games.
“Hopefully they look at the tape and see how good teams are every week,” Shanahan said. “We thought Pittsburgh was going to be a battle. I know that didn’t go the way we expected. Going into this game, we thought the Rams was going to come down to the final possession. I see no difference Thursday night.”
The Bosa factor: Defensive end Nick Bosa has no sacks through two games after holding out for a contract extension during training camp. Shanahan believes he’s seeing progress, however.
Bosa played 63 of 80 snaps against the Rams, more than any other 49ers defensive lineman, after playing 35 of 61 against Pittsburgh. He was credited with three quarterback hits and was in the face of Matthew Stafford on one of his interceptions.
“I think he’s getting back into football shape,” Shanahan said. “Getting back into his groove. I thought he got better and stronger throughout the game, similar to last week. I thought he finished real strong and took a step forward from Pittsburgh.”
Moody’s big kick: The 49ers drafted Jake Moody in the third round to replace Robbie Gould in part because of his big leg, but Shanahan said having him attempt a 57-yard field goal in the third quarter with the score tied 17-17 was not an easy decision. Moody made the kick to put the 49ers up 20-17.
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“There was a little bit of hesitation between that or trying to pin ’em deep,” Shanahan said. “They way they’d been going on offense, they’d been scoring so I thought we needed points. But it makes them a hell of a lot easier for them if you miss that. We ended up rolling the dice and he definitely gave us a lot more confidence after that.”
Aiyuk’s injury: Aiyuk, Shanahan said, was injured on his first reception of the game. he finished playing just 30 of 57 snaps with rookie seventh-round pick Ronnie Bell playing 27 snaps. Bell was not targeted by Purdy at any point.
Aiyuk had eight receptions for 129 yards in the opener with two touchdowns and was on the field for 58 of 68 snaps with Bell getting seven.