Kurtenbach: Can the 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan teach Miami’s Mike McDaniel one last lesson?

Kyle Shanahan needs a win.

Not for the 49ers, who have won four games in a row and sit atop the NFC West. No, he needs a win for the 49ers’ offense Sunday.

A big number on the scoreboard would go a long way to instilling the belief that this Niners team has both the offense and defense to win the NFC and play for a Super Bowl.

Even with some strong performances on the books and Jimmy Garoppolo riding a wave of positive public sentiment, after last week’s offensive dud in the Niners’ 13-0 win over the Saints (thanks, defense), the Niners’ offense needs a bounce-back Sunday against the Dolphins.

The issue there?

Shanahan needs to bust out all the tricks of his offense against a coach who was by his side for 14 years, Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel.

The master is going to have to school the student one more time.

And that’s easier said than done.

Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel gives introductions to his players at Baptist Health Training Complex in Hard Rock Stadium on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP) (David Santiago, AP)

Shanahan has many admirable traits as a head coach, but his best skill is his ability to pick assistant coaches.

The coaching tree is impressive and rapidly expanding. Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, and Robert Saleh were all assistants to Shanahan and are now NFL head coaches. At least one more — perhaps two — will ascend into those roles this offseason. Right now, more than a quarter of the NFL’s head coaches come from the Shanahan Clan.

There was one assistant coach Shanahan trusted more than the rest, though: Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel.

He was Shanahan’s right-hand man — the coach’s “computer”, per Shanahan.

This is Shanahan’s first year in the Bay without McDaniel. Both parties are doing fine. They’re head coaches of teams destined for the playoffs and could end Sunday in first place in their respective divisions. McDaniel might be the NFL’s Coach of the Year for what he’s done with the Dolphins.

But it’s fair to wonder how much has been lost now that the dynamic duo is no more. A bit of dependency had to build up between the two over all those years, right?

Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel speaks to the media before a joint practice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at an NFL football training camp practice Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara) (Chris O’Meara, AP)

The coaches would never frame it as such, but Sunday is both Shanahan and McDaniel’s chance to prove that they were always the real brains behind the operation.

Ok, ok, ok, that’s a joke, But seriously, now, this is a pretty heavy regular-season game. The kind of regular-season game that has branches, if you will.

For the Dolphins, it’s another chance at legitimacy — going on the road and beating one of the NFL’s hottest teams and arguably its top defense carries weight.

For the Niners, beating the Dolphins matters because San Francisco has played one playoff team so far this season. They lost that game to the Chiefs 44-23, at home.

The Dolphins aren’t the Chiefs, but Miami is a lot closer to Kansas City in the standings than the Rams, Cardinals, and Saints are.

The game isn’t offense vs. offense, but if the 49ers find themselves in a shootout on Sunday, they need to show they can in win it.

The Niners found themselves in a somewhat similar situation in 2019. Their defense had been outstanding, but it took off Week 14 in New Orleans.

The Niners won that game anyway, 48-46.

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) celebrates his touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)

That win created a belief that the Niners could win games in any way imaginable. Their defense was strong enough to hold Aaron Rodgers to eight points and their offense — and their quarterback — was efficient enough to nearly drop half a hundred on one of the NFL’s best teams.

Is it apples for apples to Week 13 of the 2022 season? No.

The difference between this week’s game and that game in New Orleans in 20219 is that the Dolphins coach knows the 49ers’ trick plays.

The Saints had no idea what hit them.

So what does Shanahan have stored up his sleeve? What kind of plays and schemes did he have tucked away that he didn’t share with his closest confidant?

And, in turn, what did the student keep from the master?

We’ll find out that and so much more on Sunday.

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Author: Dieter Kurtenbach