49ers

No easy decisions ahead for 49ers’ offense woes

The San Francisco 49ers are off to horrible start this NFL season, posting a 2-6 record and creating a sense of apathy surrounding the team not seen in the better part of a decade.

The 49ers are a team less than three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance and two years from a third consecutive appearance in the NFC Championship Game. Yet, it feels like the franchise is at rock bottom, and the biggest problem is the offensive, ranked dead last in scoring in the NFL.

Consider this: The 49ers haven’t scored a touchdown in their last two games, and with just 109 points, they are 16 points behind the next most inept offense in the league, that being the Tennessee Titans, who start a rookie quarterback and have played one fewer game than the 49ers. The 49ers rank last in the league with an average of 282.2 yards of total offense per game, and they’ve failed to gain 200 yards in four of the last six games.

This week, the organization took strides to shake the 49ers’ offense out of its doldrums. On Monday, the team traded veteran tight end Vernon Davis to the Denver Broncos. Later that same day, word came out of Santa Clara that the 49ers were replacing Colin Kaepernick with Blaine Gabbert as the starting quarterback.

Those are two big changes, but they’re not changes that will bring the 49ers long-term success. Davis is a 30-year old who was likely to leave the team as a free agent at the end of the season. Gabbert, the 10th overall pick of the 2011 draft, has a 5-22 record as a starting quarterback, and his 66.8 passer rating is the lowest of any quarterback in the NFL since 2011.

So, where does all this leave the 49ers?

Offensive line

Coming into the season, the offensive line was a concern, but the general thought was the left-side tandem of guard Alex Boone and tackle Joe Staley would provide enough stability to get the running game going and give Kaepernick time in the pocket.

Those assumptions proved wrong. Pro Football Focus ranks the offensive line 32nd and last in run blocking and 18th in pass protection. With 28 sacks allowed, the line is tied for second-worst in the NFL, behind only their divisional foe the Seattle Seahawks.

Receivers and tight ends

Anquan Boldin leads the team with 31 receptions despite sitting out last week with a leg injury. Now that Davis and his 18 receptions are gone, next up for the Niners is Torrey Smith with just 16 catches and two touchdowns – definitely not what general manager Trent Baalke expected when he signed him to a five-year, $40 million free agent contract over the summer.

Smith was supposed to be the deep threat that would stretch the field and open up room underneath for players like Boldin. More often than not, Smith has been invisible. Not even Kaepernick noticed Smith completely uncovered by the Rams last Sunday.

The 49ers’ receiving corps won’t scare opposing defenses. They’re going to have to scheme to find separation, and that usually means play action passes off the threat of a rushing attack.

Running backs

Injuries have crippled the 49ers running back position, one that was always top-heavy with second-year player Carlos Hyde being the projected workhorse. Hyde is battling a foot injury, and he missed last week’s game in St. Louis against the Rams. To make matters worse, replacements Reggie Bush and Mike Davis were injured against the Rams, with Bush’s knee injury sidelining him for the remainder of the season.

Wednesday, the 49ers came to terms with veteran Pierre Thomas, who adds critical depth and offers pass-catching abilities on third down. Thomas will be busy as soon as he reports to the club, but at 30-years of age with eight tough seasons behind him, he’s nowhere near a long-term solution.

Quarterback

Kaepernick has a 27-20 regular season record as a starting quarterback, and he also has three road playoff victories to his credit. That was then. The now is that the 49ers have lost 10 of their last 13 games, and Kaepernick looks completely lost on the field.

Two summers ago, the 49ers signed Kaepernick to a six-year, $114 million contract extension, a deal structured with very little guaranteed money and the ability for the 49ers to re-evaluate their ties to the quarterback at the conclusion of every season. With his current deal, Kaepernick is scheduled to receiver $11.9 million in salary next year.

Gabbert, in the first year of a two-year, $4 million contract, doesn’t appear to be the answer to the 49ers trouble. He’s better than nothing, but he’s not better than Kaepernick.

The 49ers will give Gabbert a shot, but really it’s wake-up call to Kaepernick and the entire roster. In the long-run, the 49ers will need to bring in other quarterbacks to compete for the job. Until then, while many suspect Kaepernick will be gone by next here, he’s really the default quarterback until a better solution can be brought in. 

Two-deep roster

A look at the 49ers’ two-deep roster on the offense side of the ball brings a final dose of reality to the evaluation of the 49ers. With the exception of running back Hyde, there’s not an obvious standout performer with a significant upside to his career. Without new personnel and under the same scheme, this underperforming unit will only continue to stagnant and even regress.

Baalke and the organization are on notice. Currently, the 49ers are a disaster on offense, and their only opportunities to win ball games will come from stellar defensive and special teams play.

The shortcomings of the personnel and the coaching staff are going to require tough, difficult decisions. 49ers’ fans can only hope the right decision makers will make the right decisions. That it’s the same decision makers greatly responsible for the current mess only puts the Faithful further not at ease.

Photo Credit: Ben Margot/AP Photo

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Ray Hartjen

A Public Relations pro by day, by night @RayHartjen follows parallel - yet somehow still often conflicting - paths searching for hair metal guitar legend status, a career as a journeyman 4th line center in the NHL, and the treasured laminates to be a hanger-on in the circus that is Formula 1.
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