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San Francisco 49ers: The Good and the Bad of the Starting Offense's Performances

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) walks off the field after an NFL preseason football game against the San Diego Chargers in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. The 49ers won 21-7. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Bryan KnowlesContributor IIIDecember 5, 2016

With Sunday’s performance against the San Diego Chargers in the books, it looks like the San Francisco 49ers might go the entire preseason without a touchdown from their starting offense.

It’s unlikely that the 49ers’ starting offense will see any significant time in the final preseason game. What we’ve seen so far has been a team that has failed to get the ball into the end zone even one time, but that fact masks the idea that the offense has been better than the generally perceived. 

Let’s quickly recap every drive the 49ers have had this preseason with Colin Kaepernick behind center:

49ers' Starting Offense Drives
OpponentStartPlaysYardsToPResult
BaltimoreSF 277664:00Field Goal
DenverSF 358283:37Missed Field Goal
DenverSF 239364:31Punt
San DiegoSF 21361:47Punt
San DiegoSF 153-11:04Fumble
San DiegoSF 56141:59Punt
San DiegoSF 2412556:09Field Goal
NFL GSIS

Let’s play some good news/bad news with the starting offense’s work here.

Until the San Diego game, the 49ers were actually moving the ball quite well.  Clearly, the drive in Baltimore, where Carlos Hyde went off in a big way, was the highlight of the preseason for the starting unit, with the final drive against San Diego following close behind. Four of the seven possessions saw the 49ers picking up first downs and swinging the field position in their favor

If the 49ers put together drives lack those consistently, they should be fine.  That’s good!

However, while you can’t blame them for the missed field goal against the Denver Broncos, the failure to punch the ball into the end zone can’t help but bring up memories of the poor red-zone efficiency that hurt this team at times last year. 

The 49ers scored a touchdown on 53.03 percent of their red zone drives in 2013.  That’s in the middle of the pack of the NFL as a whole, but ninth out of the twelve playoff teams from last season.  That’s not good enough for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.  That’s bad.

The 49ers haven’t even begun to show off their revamped offense.  They have barely used any three-receiver sets with any unit, much less the starters.  While we shouldn’t expect Kaep and offense to suddenly be challenging Peyton Manning’s passing records, we should expect some different looks when the regular season starts.  The 49ers have been playing a very vanilla offense, and there should be some more wrinkles involved when the regular season proper starts.  That’s good!

The 49ers miss Alex Boone
The 49ers miss Alex BooneMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

However, what we have seen of the revamped offensive line hasn’t been fantastic.  Jonathan Martin has been getting the starts at right tackle, while Anthony Davis is recovering from surgery and Joe Looney has been filling in for Alex Boone, who is still holding out.  Looney’s been adequate, but he's no Boone, and Martin’s been terrible.  Worse yet, in the San Diego game it was Mike Iupati who was getting beat and allowing Kaepernick to get pounded. 

The line is in disarray right now, and needs to get it together sooner rather than later.  That’s bad.

It is just the preseason.  Anthony Davis will be back in the regular season, Frank Gore will play more than three snaps a game, and the playbook will be opened up.  The correlation between a team’s preseason record and its regular-season record, especially for teams as successful as the 49ers were last year, is essentially zero.  The leading point scorers in the 2013 preseason?  Baltimore, Seattle, Detroit, Cincinnati, Washington, New York Jets and Chicago.  They finished 25th, eighth, 13th, sixth, 23rd, 29th and second in the regular season, respectively. So there was little correlation.  That’s good.

The definition of "no correlation"
The definition of "no correlation"NFL.com/Bryan Knowles

However, it’s disheartening to see how well the Seattle Seahawks have done offensively, while the 49ers have sputtered.  In their three preseason game, the Seahawks have scored 16, 41 and 34 points.  Does that mean anything for the regular season?  No, but it must be concerning for San Francisco fans to see them doing so well while the 49ers struggle to score points. 

All this leave your head spinning, wanting to go home and/or get your free frogurt?  Let’s sum it all up.

This is the preseason.  It is, undeniably, better to see things going well than poorly, but exhibition games are vanilla offenses playing against vanilla defenses.  To use these games as a barometer for determining regular-season success is suspect, at best.

That’s not to say that legitimate concerns haven’t been raised, primarily along the offensive line.  Kaepernick fumbled twice against San Diego, because intense pressure forced him onto the move.  There’s not really a ‘vanilla’ way to play offensive line, nor a special blocking technique that will kick in when the games start to count. Especially against San Diego, Kaepernick had very little time to work in the backfield.  That has to change, and fast.

After last week’s performance against Denver, we asked if you should panic over the slow start for the offense.  It’s still not time to panic, but it is perfectly valid to be a bit concerned at this point.  Between Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman, there is enough coaching talent to iron out the wrinkles before the games start to count.

But there are issues to be ironed out.  The tune-up game revealed more things that need to be tuned up.

Perhaps the best way to look at the game came from the mouths of Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh after the game.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Kaepernick admitted that the starting offense played below expectations, and that there were issues with execution issues that need to be corrected.  He said he wasn’t concerned, however, because it was the preseason.

Harbaugh said that the execution had improved, and the precision had taken a step forward from the previous games.  He said they needed to work on the protection some more but that he was generally satisfied with the performance so far.

I think that Harbaugh might be coming across a bit too unconcerned—perhaps even deliberately projecting an air of indifference—but the general sentiment is the right one.  Some problems were brought to the forefront in this game, but they are issues that can still be resolved before the season opens in Dallas.

At the end of his press conference, Harbaugh indicated that there was a chance that the starters could see a series or two against the Houston Texans on Thursday. Whether we do or not, and whether that drive is successful or not, there’s no reason to break into a full-out panic until these problems persist into the season opener on Sept. 7.

 

Bryan Knowles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers.  Follow him @BryKno on twitter.

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