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How 49ers QB Nick Mullens flourished despite low Pro Football Focus stats

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USATSI

How 49ers QB Nick Mullens flourished despite low Pro Football Focus stats

Pro Football Focus released it’s QB Annual report, a deep dive on each quarterback in the league. While there is an inordinate amount of information to try to digest, it does offer insights into interesting aspects of QB Nick Mullens and the 49ers offense. 

While Mullens had an average quarterback rating of 90.8 over his eight games with numbers ranging from 62.1 to 151.9, there were a few things that stood out after looking at the PFF metrics. 

Although Mullens was accurate in short-yardage situations and in a clean pocket -- ranking 15th of 35 quarterbacks -- his passer rating dropped to 43.1 when he threw 20 or more yards down the field. The average rating for the league was 97.3. 

Mullens very rarely threw the ball deep downfield. He completed safe throws when he had a clean pocket, but his productivity dwindled when under pressure. It dropped even more when scrambling. 

While that is a logical regression, Mullens fell significantly below the NFL average of accuracy when under pressure. He averaged 20 percent accuracy on the run, while the league average was 50 percent.

Many of those measurements seem logical, but what is interesting is how Mullens' inaccuracy has been somewhat camouflaged by the abilities of his receivers, as well as the scheming of coach Kyle Shanahan. 

Mullens averaged a 64.23 percent completion rate over his eight games, which isn’t far away from Tom Brady’s completion average of 65.8 percent. But he often threw to open receivers. Mullens' accuracy to open receivers was ranked 25th of 35 quarterbacks.

Once a defender was within a step or two of the receiver, Mullens’ completion rate dropped to 27 percent -- or 34th of 35 -- and in tight coverage he ranked 30th, at only 17 percent. 

Despite these stats, Mullens’ overall counting numbers were very impressive in his first season as a starter. His 2,277 passing yards in his first eight career starts are the fourth-most by a quarterback since 1970 (behind Patrick Mahomes' 2,507, Andrew Luck's 2,404 and Cam Newton's 2,393). 

How did Mullens get those numbers when he struggled in so many categories?

The answer is two-fold, -- both a product of Shanahan's offensive scheme, and also the receivers making plays on less than perfect throws.

Mullens struggled in delivering accurate passes to his receivers, which happened 11.0 percent of the time (3.1 percent below the league average). 44.9 percent of Mullens' passes were thrown within the frame of the receiver, which was only 1.1 percent lower than the the median.

Mullens’ most inaccurate spot? Placing the ball at a high point above the receiver, as seen several times when he was targeting All-Pro tight end George Kittle. While still catchable, 9.5 percent were thrown over the head of receivers, and another 9.5 percent ended up behind them. 

[RELATED: Kittle 'one of the luckiest guys in NFL' to play for Shanahan]

Shanahan’s scheming also allowed Mullens to flourish. His offensive strategy against coverages helped receivers get open, which provided a solid target for his second year quarterback. 

What everyone has to look forward to now, is how Jimmy Garoppolo will use the scheme to his advantage as he returns to the field in the coming season.

If Shanahan can make Mullens a star, what is the ceiling for the 49ers franchise quarterback? 

What 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan learned from his first football job

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AP

What 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan learned from his first football job

Kyle Shanahan is the son of two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike Shanahan and widely is considered one of the brightest young minds in football.

But before the younger Shanahan could help build some of the best offenses at the NFL, he got his start in coaching at UCLA as a graduate assistant at the ripe age of 23.

"Back then, I was right out of college, so everything I wanted to show, I would put cleats on and try to demonstrate it," Shanahan told ESPN's Nick Wagoner. "You are still wanting to play, and it's neat because you are close in age to all those guys, so you can relate with them a lot more. But you're learning so much more, so you can help bring stuff to the table to them that you don't always have that connection as you get a lot older."

During the 2003 season, Shanahan spent time around running back Maurice Jones-Drew, tight end Marcedes Lewis and quarterback Drew Olson.

But Shanahan only spent one season with the Bruins before being hired by Jon Gruden to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive quality control coach in 2004.

"But I also didn't know as much then," Shanahan told Wagoner. "I was a GA and just getting into it. But I think you start to realize when you can help people and teach them stuff, and you can answer questions that help people, it doesn't matter whether you're a GA, a head coach, a quality control, a coordinator or whether you're talking to a walk-on or Maurice Jones-Drew or Marcedes Lewis. If you can say something that helps people and makes sense to them, they will respect you and listen to you.

"That's why I don't think appearance or age or whatever matters. It's if you know what you're talking about. That's why I don't think you have to be a guy who MFs people if you know what you're talking about. And I feel like I've always taken that from a young age and tried to be consistent with it."

[RELATED: Kocurek's craziness resonating with 49ers]

Before taking the 49ers head coaching job in 2017, Shanahan spent two seasons in Atlanta and built the Falcons into an offensive juggernaut. He hasn't been able to replicate that success in Santa Clara just yet, but the 49ers are trending upwards.

At just 39 years old, Shanahan has plenty of time left to leave his mark on the game of football.

New 49ers D-line coach Kris Kocurek might be right amount of crazy

New 49ers D-line coach Kris Kocurek might be right amount of crazy

During position drills at the beginning of each 49ers practice, defensive line coach Kris Kocurek’s gravelly voice can be heard from across the practice field. His antics may be seen as crazy to some, but to many of the players, it’s just the kind of crazy they need. 

At Arik Armstead’s Charity Gala in Sacramento during the offseason, several defensive players spoke to NBC Sports Bay Area about Kocurek and what he brings to the defensive line room. DeForest Buckner explained that Kocurek’s brand of crazy meshes perfectly with their group.

“We all got to be crazy to play this game,” Buckner said. “I’m just going to say that. We all got to have that little crazy in us. He’s a perfect fit for our room.

“It’s about consistency. He’s the same guy every day. We all know he’s passionate in everything he does. All he wants is to see is us succeed, so we respect it, we love it, we feed off of it when we go out there and practice. We want to be the best that we can be every day. That’s what he expects from us, that’s the standard and he’s just an amazing coach.”  

Armstead is heading into his fifth NFL season and notes that Kocurek has brought a new energy into the room. 

“It’s been great,” Armstead said. “He’s an amazing coach. He’s really passionate about the game, he wants us to be successful. He does seem a little crazy, but in a good way. He’s really motivating and pushing us to reach our full potential and be the best we can be. We’re really excited to have him and have him leading us.”  

Fellow lineman Ronald Blair detailed that what Kocurek brings isn’t just about football. He is helping the group in all aspects of their lives. 

“It really just changes the outlook for all of us as young guys,” Blair said. “He’s bringing something different. It’s not just about football with him. It’s about outside life, it’s about dealing with your family, it’s about everything that you put in, to just get to this point. 

“I’m just grateful to have him as a coach. He’s already done numbers in just the month or two being here. I've got nothing but respect for him. I’m looking forward to the future with him.”  

Defensive tackle Sheldon Day explained how Kocurek's intensity has changed the mood of the 49ers' defense line.

“He’s changed our room completely,” Day said. “He’s made us be more competitive with each other than we ever have been before. Every day is a competition, everyday we want to be our best, every day we’ve got to be better than the day before. 

"He’s making sure we stay on task, he’s making sure that we detail our work. He’s just bringing the best out of us. We’re definitely grateful to have him in the room.”  

Richard Sherman might not be a defensive lineman, but he already has seen a change in the defensive line group since Kocurek arrived. Kocurek’s yelling might seem brash to outsiders, but Sherman believes it’s specific and purposeful. 

“I've never met a person great at anything who wasn’t a little crazy,” Sherman said. “People look at the yelling and screaming as a negative thing. It’s not like he’s just yelling and screaming at guys, and that’s the difference between him and a lot of coaches who kind of take that style. 

“He’s yelling techniques. He’s yelling 'get off.' He’s yelling run to the ball. He’s not yelling M.F. and cursing at guys for making mistakes, he’s just yelling effort. The effort he’s giving, the guys are just trying to match. And that’s something you can get behind and something you can go with. 

“He’s teaching incredible techniques and every one of the D-linemen is saying they are benefitting from it. So you can just appreciate the energy and the amount of time that he spends and amount of effort that he spends every day just to get his guys ready.” 

[RELATED: 'Different Solomon' Thomas impressing 49ers teammates]

The addition of edge rushers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa already has raised the expectations for the defense. Kocurek's ability to fit all of the moving pieces together will be tested once the season begins.