Why 49ers Offense Didn’t Succeed Against Seahawks Defense


Nine punts, eight first downs, three measly points. The 49ers offense was back to its very worst in a 20-3 Week 7 loss to the NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night.

The defeat drops the Niners to 2-5 and provided Jim Tomsula with plenty more to worry about on offense as he attempts to salvage a season that looks to be quickly slipping away.

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Fans have every right to be disappointed and should soon start asking questions over their first-year head coach if he does not take steps to try to fix the most glaring problem hampering the offense and the primary reason for the loss, a dreadful offensive line.

San Francisco’s O-line has been porous throughout the 2015 season and continued that trend against Seattle. Many may choose to blame quarterback Colin Kaepernick – who appeared to have made progress in the last two games – for the offense’s struggles in a game in which he managed just 124 yards on 13 completions and sailed a few throws down the sideline over the heads of his receivers.

Kaepernick himself refuses to throw his blockers under the bus and continues to be the diplomat when asked about the offense’s problems.

"I wouldn’t be able to tell you [if he was pressured more than any other game], I’d have to go back and watch the film. I do know that we didn’t play well enough to win tonight."

But he and most football observers know it is tough to be an effective quarterback in the NFL when you have next to no protection, particularly against an excellent Seattle front seven. Kaepernick, per Pro Football Focus, was sacked five times and hurried 10 times.

Left tackle Joe Staley was once again the best of the 49er linemen according to PFF’s metrics despite giving up a sack and a hurry.

Staley received a positive grade of 1.1, center Marcus Martin was given a 0.2 mark and Alex Boone was rated as just below average as he was awarded a grade of negative 0.9.

With the left side of the line, manned by Staley and Boone, playing relatively well and Martin – who has given up just one hurry and no hits in his last two games – showing improvements in pass protection, it is clear where the problem lies up front, and that is on the right side of the O-line, which has been abysmally managed by Tomsula and his staff.

Against the Seahawks, right tackle Erik Pears gave up two sacks and five hurries, while right guard Jordan Devey conceded two sacks and a hurry.

Devey’s continued timeshare with Andrew Tiller is the most baffling and irritating aspect of the 49ers’ struggles on the O-line.

Tiller, brought up from the practice squad, and Devey each played 24 snaps at right guard against Seattle, per PFF, the difference being that the former did not give up a sack, a hurry or a quarterback hit in 11 pass protection snaps.

Former Syracuse lineman Tiller has been better than Devey for three weeks running now and yet the Niners persist with a bizarre rotation that does little to provide the continuity widely accepted as being necessary for success up front.

The situation with Pears at right tackle is no less frustrating given that Tomsula, per Pro Football Talk, stated the sabbatical of former right tackle of Anthony Davis wasn’t shocking back in June.

I can’t say it was shocking at all. Anthony’s been working on himself right now, that’s what he’s been doing. Look, Anthony wants to step away and he wants to get his mind and his body right and that’s where he wants to go and he has every right to do that. We wish him the best.

If that was the case? Why didn’t the Niners have a better contingency plan than Pears, who has been nothing short of a liability in stopping pressure from coming off the edge?

San Francisco’s inability to properly fill in the holes left by Davis and Mike Iupati is killing this team and put them behind the eight ball against Seattle. Kaepernick had no time to let deep routes develop with pressure in his face and the Seahawks playing excellent coverage, and the Niners regularly found themselves in third-and-long situations as a result of the lack of pass protection and a couple of other factors.

An absence of consistency in the run game mean the 49ers were one-dimensional for much of the game. Carlos Hyde – hampered by a foot injury – was given just 11 carries, on which he made only 40 yards. Hyde did run well when he was handed the ball but, with the former Ohio State back not 100 percent and the fragile Reggie Bush and rookie Mike Davis serving as backups, the Niners never seemed to have confidence in the running game.

But the offensive line likely had on impact on the ground game as well. Only Staley received a positive run-blocking grade from PFF for the guys up front, however, beyond the issues in the trenches, the most frustrating aspect of the 49ers’ offensive performance was the dreadfully conservative gameplan.

The Seahawks were never tested deep, with Kaepernick averaging 5.2 yards per attempt, per PFF, and – while the O-line rarely afforded its quarterback the time for the deep routes to develop, it seems clear the coaching staff has some trust issues with the Niners’ signal-caller, which is somewhat bizarre given he had put up 602 yards passing with four touchdowns and no interceptions over the previous two weeks.

Even if the Niners’ apparent trepidation to have Kaepernick challenge Seattle deep is somewhat understandable, the personnel left on the sidelines is not. Bruce Ellington, who has the speed to give the 49ers a threat out of the slot, played just two snaps and running back and punt returner Jarryd Hayne was placed on the inactive list.

Hayne has had ball security issues but came through in short yardage against the New York Giants in Week 5 and the call to leave players of his and Ellington’s athletic ability out of the action makes little sense for an offense that has been inconsistent at best this year.

Kaepernick’s decision to deliberately throw balls away over the sideline and protect the football may be questionable but, although many claim he is regressing, a look at his supporting cast provides a greater explanation for his and the offense’s struggles.

"A couple of those were throw aways. I’m not going to force the ball into a window and turn it over, especially when we’re in a backed up situation."

The O-line is a mess because of a lack of foresight to find adequate replacements for Davis and Iupati and a bewildering unwillingness to go with the best option at right guard in Tiller. In addition, talented players were left on the sidelines against the Seahawks, who were able to key in on the pass with a banged-up Hyde effectively taken out of the picture.

That combination is a recipe for an inept and ineffective offensive performance, which is exactly what the Niners served up in Week 7.