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Will the Redskins be facing the 2019 Coach of the Year tomorrow?

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San Francisco 49ers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The FanPulse survey this week looked at Coach of the Year candidates, and voters nationally were pretty overwhelming in their identification of Kyle Shanahan as the favorite to win the honor.

The return of Shanahan the younger to Washington this week has been a dominant theme in a lot of storylines.

The Athletic ran a story on Saturday titled, San Francisco’s offense is a reminder of what the Redskins once had. In it, Mark Bullock breaks down film of the Redskins offensive scheme.

Of course, Twitter has been alight with film clips and comments from Kyle.

In some ways, it’s hard to see why the return of Kyle Shanahan would be such a big deal. As he himself pointed out, he’s already been back to FedEx Field since his departure from the Redskins.

But the obvious difference is the success (or lack of success) that has been enjoyed by the two teams this season, and what that means for Kyle on his return visit. This time, the game appears to be a mismatch, with Kyle coming to town with enough firepower to lay a lop-sided defeat on the home team.

The Redskins, of course, sit at 1-5, having just squeaked out a 1-point victory over the Dolphins, putatively the worst team in the league, while the Niners come in as the only undefeated team in the NFC (and one of only two undefeated teams league-wide).

While there seems to be no doubt that the Redskins have been every bit as bad as their record suggests, the undefeated Niners may be the beneficiaries of an easy schedule that gives the appearance of being tougher than it really has been.

On the face of it, consecutive victories over the Steelers, Browns and Rams lend legitimacy to the idea that the 49ers are the best in the National Conference, yet all 5 of SF’s opponents this season have had issues — and the Niners seem to have been particularly fortunate with the timing of their contests. The Steelers, of course, are playing without Ben Rothlisberger, the Browns have underperformed expectations for most of the season, as have the Rams, whose loss to the Niners last week marked their third consecutive defeat.

The 49ers 2019 opponents, in fact, have a combined record of just 9-21, which is a .300 win percentage. While I am certainly not predicting a win for the Redskins this Sunday — they are 9.5 point underdogs — I do wonder whether the San Francisco team will be able to maintain its dominance through the balance of the season as they face the Seahawks (twice), the red-hot Panthers, the Packers, Ravens and Saints. I’m not sure that Kyle Shanahan will still look like the front runner for Coach of the year if he brings his team in at, say, 11-5 after a 5-0 start.

But it’s possible that the San Francisco team really is as good as their record, and maybe Kyle Shanahan should be the Coach of the Year. When measured by points scored, the Niners defense is ranked 2nd in the NFL right now, while the offense is ranked 3rd. Putting a team on the field that is top-3 on both sides of the ball is damned impressive! The only question is whether the team can maintain this kind of performance through 16 games and against some higher quality opponents.

Meanwhile, the Redskins have fired their head coach and enter the game with 63-year-old Bill Callahan and a freshly signed fullback. The Redskins have had three different quarterbacks on the field in the first third of the season, and the defense has found it difficult to put together 60 minutes of football in the same game. While the Redskins have had bright spots with Ereck Flowers, Terry McLaurin, and Quinton Dunbar, the team overall has looked as if it lacks the talent, discipline and preparation to beat even average NFL teams this season.

The 49ers are in a tough division. Even undefeated, they enjoy only a half-game lead over the Seahawks, with Russell Wilson playing at a level that makes him a candidate for league MVP. San Francisco needs to have the win in Washington on Sunday to maintain their slim lead over their division rivals.

Meanwhile, the Redskins have only a single win all year. The sit two games out of the division lead by dint of the Cowboys and Eagles both losing this past Sunday and falling to 3-3. No one outside the Redskins locker room really gives them a chance to salvage the season, and the idea of “must win” games has already evaporated, but if the franchise wants to salvage any respectability this season, a win at home against the undefeated Niners seems like the best way to do it.

San Francisco does have some vulnerabilities. According to one of the writers from the Niners Nation blog, the visitors “will be down their top two offensive tackles, their best cornerback, a “fullback” [Kyle Juszczyk] who so happens to be one of the most important players on the offense, and this week the Niners will likely be down their second-round pick and starting nose tackle.” This could create some opportunities if the Redskins are prepared to exploit them.

The Redskins should be able to pressure the quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, and limit him to short passes as the Rams were able to do this past Sunday. The Washington defense may be able to focus on stopping tight end Kittle, who seems to be the offense’s most dangerous weapon, and hope that that takes away enough to limit the Niners’ very productive offense.

Bill Callahan and Kevin O’Connell have had a full week to “tweak” the Redskins offense. Perhaps they may be able to roll out some formations and plays that will catch the Niner defense off-guard. There is also some hope that Case Keenum will be back to full health. He seems to have been limited by a foot injury for most of the regular season so far.

The Redskins will be playing at home against a team that has had to fly across the country to play a game in the early time slot. Perhaps the “any given Sunday” effect will kick in and the Redskins can make a game of it.

In any event, Washington will need to play mistake-free football if they do want to make a game of it because they’ll be facing the crowd favorite for Coach of the Year on the opposite sideline — a guy who was standing on the Redskins sideline from 2010-2013, who has a dangerous team at his disposal and a lot of reasons to want to embarrass Dan Snyder.

Meanwhile, the Redskins are running out of head coaches to fire.

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