49ers offense has a glaring second-half scoring problem
By Peter Panacy
The 49ers offense has been rather pedestrian over the first three weeks of 2022, but Kyle Shanahan needs to note particular problems in the second half.
It’s understandable why the San Francisco 49ers have had their share of offensive challenges over the first three games of 2022.
For starters, and easily the biggest challenge of them all, they’ve had to transition from second-year quarterback Trey Lance as the unquestioned starter back to the player he was poised to replace, Jimmy Garoppolo, in the wake of Lance’s season-ending injury suffered in Week 2.
And, no matter what anyone thinks about Garoppolo potentially stabilizing head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense after reclaiming the job, it can’t cover up the fact the Niners spent all offseason, training camp and the preseason working with Lance as QB1. Not Garoppolo.
Simply put, that was a massive shakeup.
Additionally, San Francisco was without All-Pro tight end George Kittle for the first two games of the year because of a groin injury, and it also saw the offense’s No. 1 running back, Elijah Mitchell, go down with a knee injury in Week 1.
Tack on some question marks for the offensive line, and it’s understandable why Shanahan’s offense has gotten off to a slow start.
After three weeks, and with them boasting a 1-2 record, the 49ers are tied for the fourth-worst scoring offense and rank 24th in total yards gained.
Diving deeper into some of the numbers, though, it’s likely there’s a more specific aspect to this problem than just a bland offense overall.
49ers have far more problems on offense during second half of games
Splits are important to look at. They can reveal trends, how adjustments are going and much, much more.
In the Niners’ case, it’s pretty apparent they’re running into difficulty scoring points after the first two quarters. Even during San Francisco’s lone win of the year, Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, it managed a mere seven points after putting up 20 before halftime.
Of the 49ers’ 47 points scored thus far in 2022, only 13 have come in quarters three and four. And the numbers aren’t much better when looking at the averages and pass/run splits.
Case in point, the Niners are averaging 4.3 second-half points per game, which is fourth worst in the league. In contrast, back in 2019 during their Super Bowl run, they averaged 14.3, which was tied for third most.
Diving even deeper, San Francisco’s run-first offense under Shanahan has impressed in the first half, averaging an excellent 6.1 yards per carry.
After halftime, though, the figure drops down to 3.0 yards per attempt. And if you want to factor in both Garoppolo and Lance’s quarterbacking efforts this season, their combined passer rating in the first and second quarters this year is a solid 107.9 with two touchdowns against zero interceptions.
In the second half, the figures are zero touchdowns against two interceptions for a passer rating of 43.5.
How do Kyle Shanahan, 49ers fix second-half woes?
It would be one thing if the 49ers started off 3-0 and worked up sizable leads over each of their opponents, thereby setting a proverbial “cruise control” on offense in the second half while letting the defense maintain what’s looking like an elite-level prowess.
Since that hasn’t been the case, though, Shanahan has to rediscover some of the creativity and innovation he’s known for.
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In Week 3, the Denver Broncos effectively took away the Niners’ ground game by adding a fifth defensive lineman in the box, daring Garoppolo to throw. The ploy worked, as Garoppolo largely struggled after a touchdown-scoring second series in the first quarter.
A 5-2 defense, as this approach is sometimes called, isn’t perfect. It often opens up more plays over the middle of the field, which plays into Garoppolo’s own passing strengths, and speedier offenses can take advantage of an extra “slower” lineman on the field instead of a linebacker.
Shanahan loves speedy receivers, and the foursome of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Ray-Ray McCloud and Danny Gray all have speed on their side.
Yet that leads to the second element of how to beat what opponents will likely try doing to Garoppolo and the offense.
Spread it out.
Shanahan historically loves 21 personnel (two running backs and a tight end) or 22 personnel (two running backs and two tight ends) groupings, and he used these over 40 percent of the time back in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus.
If opponents are going to stack the box and force Garoppolo to throw, spreading it out in a 10 personnel (four wide receivers and one running back) is the way to go, capitalizing on the pass-catchers’ collective speed and elusiveness in open space.
Considering how big of a problem this was for Garoppolo and the offense for much of Week 3, it might be the smart response from Shanahan to get things back on track after halftime in upcoming games.