What’s Wrong With the 49ers’ Offense?


Under Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers have been known for a couple things: smothering defense and a power running offense. Throughout Harbaugh’s tenure, the 49ers’ offense has never really enjoyed an overabundance of talent, but somehow, they made it work. Why is it that they are struggling when they have the most talent that they’ve ever had on that side of the ball?

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Harbaugh has always been known as an offensive minded coach. So when he was hired in 2011, many hoped he could turn around the 49ers’ abysmal offense. Equipped with players such as near-bust Alex Smith, not-getting-any-younger Frank Gore, under-achieving Michael Crabtree, no-name Kyle Williams, no-hands Ted Ginn Jr., and over-the-hill Braylon Edwards, he still led the team to a 13-3 record and was a couple Williams’ punt return gaffes from going to the Super Bowl.

Harbaugh earned the title “Quarterback Whisperer” because of his success with Andrew Luck at Stanford and because of his revival of Smith. Many thought Smith’s career was over once his contract ended, but Harbaugh revitalized his career and even got two second round picks out of him.

Midway through 2012, Smith went down with a concussion. The 49ers were 6-2 at that point, and Smith was having the best season of his career. However, the offense was still bland and about average. After he went down, Harbaugh’s hand-picked QB, Colin Kaepernick, took over for Smith. After that, Smith never saw the field as a 49ers’ starter ever again, and Kaepernick proceeded to set the world on fire.

Kaepernick got the 49ers’ offense over the hump. The 49ers were exciting to watch again! No longer could you walk away from the game, come back ten minutes later, and the 49ers’ offense was only 15 yards from where it was when you left!

The new element of Kaepernick got the 49ers to the Super Bowl and were just a few yards from winning it. No matter, right? With Kaepernick at the helm, the 49ers will just waltz their way into the playoffs/Super Bowl next year, right? Not quite.

Whether the league “figured him out” or he struggled or injuries or whatever the reason may be, the 49ers’ offense didn’t have the same dynamic feel in 2013. Kaepernick failed to reach 200 yards passing eight times in a nine-game stretch in the middle of the season. Most fans brushed it off, but was it a sign of things to come?

Fast forward to this year, and the 49ers are struggling to move the ball and score against even mediocre teams. With weapons such as Gore, Carlos Hyde, Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Steve Johnson, and Vernon Davis, this should not be happening. This is the most talent the 49ers have ever had under Harbaugh. Why can’t they score?

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49ers assembled a golden roster via NFL Draft despite misses
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  • Over the last six games, the 49ers have only scored over 20 points once and are averaging just 15 points a game. To make it worse, they aren’t getting those 15 points from scoring two touchdowns a game. Phil Dawson is scoring those points for the team.

    Many fans are blaming Greg Roman for the disaster that is showing up every game, and while he may be a factor, he isn’t the whole problem. The blame deserves to be spread around to everyone. To Roman, to Harbaugh, to Kaepernick, to the receivers, to the offensive line. Everyone that has a part of the offense.

    The route combinations are predictable, the route running is lazy, the passes are being dropped, the passes are inaccurate, the pressure is coming quickly, the holes aren’t opening up, it’s just ugly to see.

    The team isn’t playing as a team anymore. The line is giving up free rushers, the receivers are dropping passes, and Kaepernick is throwing awful, ill-advised throws that a first year Madden player knows not to make.

    Now, a lot of that falls on the coaching. The 49ers don’t have an offensive identity right now. As mentioned earlier, the 49ers have been known as a safe, power running offensive football team. Now, they are known as a dysfunctional offensive football. Their identity is muddied up with every type of offensive philosophy known to football.

    At one point, they want to be a power run team. The next play, they’re a spread offense. The next play, they’re suddenly a read-option team. Now some of this lies on the players for just failing to execute, but their offense that was designed to confuse the defense is backfiring. Now, it’s only confusing themselves.

    Davis has essentially checked out, Crabtree is complaining about his playing time even though he continues to drop passes, Boldin is unusually dropping passes, and the line is giving up almost instantaneous pressure. Kaepernick’s three favorite targets are becoming practically useless, and his protection is constantly breaking down. You can’t do it by yourself as a quarterback.

    This leads to your young quarterback trying to do things by himself and making mistakes. Kaepernick is a competitor and as the leader, his name is on the offense. He is trying to force things that aren’t there, because he knows how the offense is playing and knows that plays need to be made. His receivers are letting him down, his protection is letting him down, and maybe even his coaching is as well.

    The 49ers are on the very cusp of the playoffs, and their chances are hanging by a thread. Win out, and they’re most likely in. Lose one game, and they’re out. If they don’t get their offense figured out, it won’t matter whether they make the playoffs or not, because currently, this is a one and done team.