The Finer Details: What’s Wrong with the 49ers Offense?

This new weekly segment on The Locker Room is called “The Finer Details” and will be looking at a pressing issue from the world of football. This week I will go deep and look at why San Francisco has struggled so mightily over the past 2 weeks. Without further ado…

Jim Harbaugh has never lost 2 straight games with the 49ers, until now. Jim Harbaugh has never had a losing record with the 49ers, until now. Jim Harbaugh has never faced this type of adversity with the 49ers, until now. Not even the incumbent Mike Singletary lost 2 consecutive games by a combined 46 points, something the 2013 team has already accomplished.

Now that that is out of the way, let’s look at some of the reasons for the early struggles of Kaepernick and co. It is really broken down into 3 main parts:

1. Health

Last season, Colin Kaepernick was at his best when he was able to throw to top target Michael Crabtree, but he is sidelined for at least another few months with a torn achilles tendon. Yes, I know they “replaced” him with Anquan Boldin, but that’s not enough. If defenses focus on taking away Boldin (which has been done 2 weeks in a row by Seattle and Indianapolis) then who can Kaepernick throw to? Vernon Davis would be a solid answer, but there’s one problem, Colin doesn’t like to throw him the ball:

Davis' game log from the time Kaepernick took over as a starter in 2012.

Davis’ game stats from the time Kaepernick took over as a starter in 2012. (Click on picture to enlarge)

After Kaepernick took over as a starter last season, Vernon Davis averaged 1.8 catches per game. And of the 7 games played with Kap at the helm, Davis eclipsed 2 catches just once. So if Crabtree is hurt, Boldin is covered, Davis is ignored, then who do the Niners throw to? This goes to show how important Michael Crabtree is to San Francisco’s offense. The sooner they can get him back, the better.

*Davis also missed Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury

2. Running Game

Shaun Alexander stats at 29 years old: 1,880 rushing yards, 5.1 YPC average

Shaun Alexander stats at 30 years old: 896 rushing yards, 3.6 YPC average

Frank Gore stats at 29 years old: 1,214 rushing yards, 4.7 YPC average

Frank Gore stats at 30 years old: (N/A – 2013 season)

The running back wall is real folks. I could have shown this same statistic with LT, Jamal Lewis, Curtis Martin, or Michael Turner, but the point remains the same: once an RB hits 30, its all downhill, and fast. Frank Gore turned 30 this past May and is averaging 3.5 yards per carry so far this year. Last season, Kaepernick relied heavily on Gore to take pressure away with solid gains on first down and sucking the defense in on the read option; two things he has not been able to do this year.

That brings me to my next point about the running game, the 49ers have run only a minuscule amount of the read-option in 2013 compared to last year. Jim Harbaugh admitted that teams have figured out different ways to stop it now which puts much more pressure on the legs of Gore and the arm of Kaepernick to succeed in more of a traditional style of offense; something that Kap has not proven capable of doing yet. Taking away the read-option makes the Niners’ offense more predictable and thus easier to stop.

Niners fans need to see more of this from Gore in 2013

Niners fans need to see more of this from Gore in 2013

Not to mention this report that Gore was angry with Harbaugh following Sunday’s defeat.

3. Schedule

The Niners schedule has not been favorable so far… to say the least. Facing 3 playoff teams from 2012 (Packers, Seahawks, Colts) and 2 legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2013 (Packers, Seahawks) is not an easy task for any team.

However, one would figure that a team with Super Bowl aspirations like San Francisco would have a better than -42 points scored/points allowed margin heading in to week 4.

The next 6 games for the 49ers are very winnable, including contests against the Jaguars, Panthers, and Cardinals. But the Niners have dug themselves into a whole so far, and it will be a longer climb than expected to get out.