49ers must be concerned about second-half offense after win vs. Bengals

Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

The 49ers offense mostly went flat in the second half in Week 14’s win over the Bengals, and that’s been a trend for much of the 2021 season.

The San Francisco 49ers were outscored 14-3 during the second half of their Week 14 road contest against the Cincinnati Bengals, which erased a 20-6 lead the Niners originally had and prompted a thrilling-yet-nerve-wracking overtime finale that ultimately saw head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad come out on top 26-23.

After the game, linebacker Fred Warner told his teammates how it was far from perfect, and there are a lot of things to work on, even though San Francisco will take wins however it can get them.

Still, the nature of the near-loss paints a picture Shanahan, Warner and Co. have to appreciate and resolve: The 49ers offense is sputtering in the second half this season.

49ers have largely been inconsistent or wholly absent during second half of games

There are outliers. Case in point, the Niners scored 20 points in the third quarter during the Week 12 home win over the Minnesota Vikings, which eclipsed the 14 first-half points and certainly aided with the impressive 34-26 victory.

And who cares if San Francisco scored only 10 second-half points against the Jacksonville Jaguars the previous week after getting out to a 20-3 lead at halftime.

But a negative case example happened in Week 13 against the Seattle Seahawks in which the 49ers held a 23-21 lead over the first two quarters, only to be shut out in the second half while watching the Hawks put up nine points of their own en route to the 30-23 victory.

Things like this require an all-encompassing look. To date, the Niners are averaging 13.5 first-half points, which is tied for 11th best entering Week 15. In contrast, though, San Francisco’s second-half efforts are managing more than two points less, on average, and the 49ers are averaging just 11.4 points in the third and fourth quarters combined, tied for 18th.

What’s happening and why?

Is Kyle Shanahan or Jimmy Garoppolo to blame for 49ers’ second-half woes?

Shanahan scripts his offensive plays for the first drive or two. Nearly every offensive play-caller does this, so it shouldn’t come as a shock.

That’s not the only football cliche we need to admit here. True, the Niners are a run-first team, and many of the team’s losses have been associated with Shanahan “not running the ball enough.” While true to some varying degrees, it’s not always effective to run the ball against eight-man fronts, which has frequently been the case versus San Francisco and certainly was when it played the Seahawks.

And when the 49ers are trailing late in a game, frequent run plays aren’t exactly a favorable option either.

As is the case with many a play-calling head coach, Shanahan can bear some criticisms for second-half adjustments and the inability to take advantage of favorable matchups discovered earlier in the games.

At the same time, though, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has to be the subject of some question marks, too.

Related Story: 4 observations from Jimmy Garoppolo’s performance vs. Bengals

Interestingly enough, though, Garoppolo’s second-half passer rating is 100.2, up noticeably from the 95.2 first-half rating, and he’s completing 67.9 percent of his passes in the third and fourth quarters, too, which is over three percentage points higher than the first half.

OK, so how about his interceptions? Well, those are split evenly with four apiece.

There is, however, a noticeable split between the two halves that doesn’t work in Garoppolo’s favor:

  • Jimmy Garoppolo first-half sacks taken: 7
  • Jimmy Garoppolo second-half sacks taken: 17

It’s not necessarily directly related to Garoppolo throwing more in the second half of games (189 first-half attempts compared to 156 in the second half), but it’s pretty safe to assume Garoppolo is proverbially “feeling the pass-rushing heat” a lot more after halftime.

Some of that is on Garoppolo. Some of it is on the offensive line, while some also has to fall on Shanahan.

Either way, if the Niners want to ensure a deep playoff push, cutting down on those second-half sacks and opening up more scoring chances after halftime has to be a significant priority.

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