49ers: Breaking Down Offense’s No. 1 Weakness

Sep 18, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly talks to quarterback Blaine Gabbert (2) in the fourth quarter. The Panthers defeated the 49ers 46-27 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly talks to quarterback Blaine Gabbert (2) in the fourth quarter. The Panthers defeated the 49ers 46-27 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Francisco 49ers did not end their losing streak against the Seattle Seahawks, so let’s take a look at what’s wrong with the Niners offense heading into Week 4.

The San Francisco 49ers crimson and gold glistened in the crisp air of CenturyLink Field waiting for the game to begin. The thunderous sound of 67,000 fans reverberated through the atmosphere, ready for this 1-1 matchup to commence. The whistle blew and the game began, giving the Seahawks their first opportunity on offense.

“It’s the entire group offensively that aren’t playing consistently. The biggest thing is converting on third downs and we’re not doing that right now.” – Chip Kelly

The first play of the game, Niners defensive back Jimmie Ward laid a sledgehammer of a hit against Seahawks running back Christine Michael to make it 2nd-and-10 for the Hawks. This looked as if it was going to be a fight, but that was the extent of the intensity from the 49ers side.

After that, the Seattle Seahawks marched it through the Niner’s defense like knife through butter as they punched in their first touchdown.

Now it was the 49ers turn to answer back on offense. Unfortunately it was a quick 3-and-out for quarterback Blaine Gabbert and company. The Seahawks’ vicious offensive jab was only countered by a 49ers offensive slap. This was supposed to be a clash of the conference, a battle to prove relevance within the division. But this was a one-sided affair from the beginning. One team found their identity and the other teetered on uncertainty and redundancy.

49ers Seahawks 2
Sep 25, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert (2) is tackled by Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (77) during the first quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

The masterful offensive mind of head coach Chip Kelly was supposed to bring an extra edge to this struggling offense, along with a formula for success. But instead the Niners offense was befuddled. The play-calling was as predictable as last season and the execution was sub par.

As the game continued, it was clear the 49ers offense was in trouble. They had another 3-and-out and a punt, wearing out the leg of Bradley Pinion before the first half was even over. Resulting in another opportunity for the Seattle offense to pump in another TD, making the score 24-3.

This bout resembled a focused and ready Seattle team beating down on an opponent who had already taken a knee, now just trying to avoid another devastating blow. Instead of countering the Seahawks with their own punches the Niners laid on the ropes. Unable to move the ball, this suddenly had the makeup for a blow out.

So, why is the 49ers offense struggling? This is what Kelly had to say about his offense after the Week 3 blowout against the Seahawks.

“It’s the entire group offensively that aren’t playing consistently,” Kelly said, via Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “The biggest thing is converting on third downs and we’re not doing that right now.”

Let’s take a closer look at the formula from a successful offense the 49ers can hope to emulate this season.

For Example…

Last season, the Arizona Cardinals offense accumulated 6,533 yards at an average of 408.3 yards a game. The 49ers were second to last in the NFL with only 4,860 yards and 303.8 yards per game.

Why was Arizona so successful offensively? It’s not like they’re calling plays the defenses haven’t seen before. The Cardinals had an average of 288.5 passing yards per game and 119.8 rushing, clearly a pass-heavy team. They averaged 373 first downs last season with 35 TDs, where the 49ers only had 261 first downs and 16 touchdowns.

Referencing Kelly’s quote above, it’s clear how important it is in this league to gain first downs. Last season the Arizona Cardinals lead the NFC west with 13 wins and only three losses. The 49ers were dead last with a 5-11 record.

This is a new season but the proof is already in the pudding

At the end of Week 3, the 49ers third-down efficiency is 16-of-46 where their opponents is 19-of-44. In the Week 3 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, the abysmal offense of the 49ers didn’t have an answer.

It’s clear this offense lacks identity. Sure, Kelly’s scheme is to run the ball and then pass off play action. But if you don’t have a QB who can threaten the opponent’s defense through the air, the run game becomes predictable. Teams will stack the box taking away the run game option altogether. And that’s what the Seahawks did on Sunday.

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It’s hard to ignore the success of those teams who carry a quarterback with great offensive prowess like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Carson Palmer. The run game works so well because teams know what they can do through the air.

On Sunday, Gabbert only completed 14 of 25 passes at an average of 4.8 yards per pass attempt. The Seahawks were 22-of-32 with an average of 8.6 yards per pass attempt. Kelly’s offensive scheme used in his days at Oregon was groundbreaking and highly successful. Which hinged on short passing plays, and screens, but that was college.

The give-the-ball-to-the-super athletes-who-could-outrun-their-opponents doesn’t work in the NFL because everyone is a super athlete.

This might be the golden lining to the 49ers offensive woes. Either the play-calling is only administering short-yardage pass plays, or the coaches lack faith in Gabbert’s arm strength. Is it time to bring back Colin Kaepernick, who is known to have a rocket for an arm although inconsistent? Or can we expect Gabbert to extend drives further then the measly 4.8 yards?

More from Niner Noise

One thing is for certain, the 49ers have young talented athletes. But they just need to make plays, or be put into situations where they can. Possibly contingent on play-calling and or personnel.

Either way, something needs to change on the offensive side of the ball for the 49ers, or it’s going to be a long frustrating season.

Next: Are the 49ers Preparing to Shorten QB Blaine Gabbert's Leash?

All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of ESPN.comPro-Football-Reference.com and Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.