The NFL ranks receivers by yards gained, and you have to go down 59 places before you find the first 49er—Vernon Davis, at 271.
With 1,026 yards through the air in six games (171 per), the 49ers rank 30th in the league. The offense, which is 28th in yards gained, is quite limited in that aspect, and you saw it in the Detroit game. The Niners have a difficult time stretching the defense horizontally.
Too often, quarterback Alex Smith sees eight and nine players crowded next to the line of scrimmage because opponents don’t worry about the deep pass.
What makes the issue even more compelling for offensive coordinator Greg Roman and others on the 49er coaching staff is that when defenses put so many people near the line of scrimmage, it makes it easier to blitz. Although the Niners have become better at picking up extra rushers, they have not been able to exploit that defensive tactic with big plays.
Of course, the Niners have had issues at wide receiver. Michael Crabtree has shown signs of being a first-rate player, but he still must deal with a testy left foot injury. Joshua Morgan leads the team in average-per-catch at 14.7 and he had surgery a week ago. Braylon Edwards (17) was lost to a knee injury as well, though it appears there’s a good chance he’ll return in the home game against Cleveland.
There were a couple of plays against Detroit that were set up for play-action that looked like they were intended to get the ball downfield, only to have penalties kill the play. So it looked like Roman was trying to get the ball downfield.
But, when the Niners face first-rate defenses in Baltimore and Washington, the SF defense will again be put to the test to limit the Ravens and the Redskins. Getting too far behind negates SF’s running game, putting pressure on an already limited passing game. It might be best to work on downfield throws to expand the offense and make the defense back off the line.