One of the most fascinating moments of the season to date came on Monday night, when the 49ers called a seven-man, cover-zero blitz late in the first half against the Vikings. Although the play nearly resulted in an interception by cornerback Charvarius Ward, Vikings receiver Jordan Addison took the ball away from Ward and scored a 60-yard touchdown.
It was a given from the get-go that the blitz should not have been called. There was little to be gained, and much to be lost in that moment. Chris Simms and I spent some time talking about it during Tuesday's PFT Live.
But the situation raised other questions, including the line between delegation and abdication by a head coach. Coaches who specialize in offense all too often throw the keys to the defense to the coordinator, fully and completing entrusting all calls to the defensive coach.
Others pushed back on our question of whether, in a case like this, the head coach has a kill switch that can prevent the defensive coordinator from moving forward with a bad play.
On Wednesday, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan pinned the public blame on defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, and took none of it for himself. On Thursday, Wilks admitted it was a mistake. On Friday, to his credit, Shanahan explained that: (1) he's ultimately responsible; and (2) he should have called a timeout to stop the blitz from happening.
“There was a time issue why we couldn't make that call and that's without a doubt on me," Shanahan told reporters. "I'm the one who can stop that and that's why I hold the ultimate responsibility on everything. But when I was asked two days ago about the call, he knows we can't make that off of time and I messed up not calling a timeout so we couldn't call it. But I had no problem with the call in terms of what we do. I love all-out blitzing. It’s just not something you can do at that time."
So that resolves it. The head coach remains responsible, even when he delegates responsibility for defensive play-calling. And the head coach has the power to stop a bad play from happening — assuming he has at least one timeout remaining to do so.