Kyle Shanahan discusses philosophy on when to take players out in big wins

© Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sport

When Nick Bosa re-entered the 49ers’ soon-to-be 30-7 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers with a little more than three minutes remaining, it had some folks scratching their heads.

Cameras had just cut to Bosa standing on the sidelines with a demeanor that suggested his play time had concluded for the day. He’d been out for the previous seven plays of that drive, leading up to a 6-yard completion on 2nd-and-17.

The commentators came to the same conclusion everyone else had, that Bosa’s day was over.

“Makes an impact and they kept him right where they wanted to,” said play-by-play man Joe Davis. “Probably weren’t tempted to run him any further just because they had the game intact. 32 snaps for Bosa today.”

Darryl Johnston continued after the completion.

“Perfect,” Johnston said. “Exactly where Kyle Shanahan wanted that number to be, between 30 and 35. He hit 32.”

Immediately after saying that, the cameras cut to Bosa, inexplicably back on the field for a 3rd-and-11.

“And the way the game unfolded, he’s in a lot early. Build that lead and that way you can rest him later in the game if you can maintain that separation,” Johnston said, right as Bosa lined up and rushed Kenny Pickett, before a 31-yard gain to Allen Robinson.

Bosa came out after that play, and admitted Wednesday that his last snap was maybe less than ideal, even though he was up for it, given the chance at a sack.

“Yeah I was [excited],” Bosa said. “I thought I was pulled, so I was sitting for a while. So that wasn’t great. But, yeah, I was excited to get out there.”

Kyle Shanahan explained his thought process in when to pull players late in games the 49ers are leading.

As with almost everything Shanahan does, it is informed by scar tissue. The 49ers’ near-disaster season opener against the Detroit Lions in 2021 — a 41-33 win that was 41-17 inside of the final two minutes — affected him.

He decides less on an exact science and more on history, feel, and what he’s seen around the league.

That [Detroit game] was the biggest one that was like, ‘Never again,’ because we took out a lot of people and I still can’t believe how that happened. I’ve had to go back and keep watching because it doesn’t sound believable, but it is.

But to me in particular, I’ve seen things get out of hand and close but nothing as scary as that Detroit one. But it’s something I always watch around to league. We see it. Stuff happens fast. If you just go three-and-out, the clock’s different now…It’s something you’ve got to be aware of.

Shanahan was asked if he ever thinks that he’s too paranoid about things like that, and perhaps too aggressive in how he uses his players late in games.

He said that’s all his staff talks about at that point in the game.

“Oh yeah. You should get a soundtrack to our headsets,” Shanahan said. “That’s all we’re talking about. Trust me, we wanted guys out of there. We wanted to go put them in bubble wrap, and wait them for next week, but once you start to go there, bad things happen a lot. Yeah, we wish we could’ve gotten there sooner, but we didn’t.”


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