49ers Offense Needs Complete Overhaul to Contend in 2015

Peter Panacy@@PeterPanacyFeatured Columnist IVDecember 8, 2014

Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh have watched the 49ers offense fall apart in 2014.
Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh have watched the 49ers offense fall apart in 2014.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The seemingly season-long ineptitude of the San Francisco 49ers offense boiled over in Week 14 when the 49ers suffered an embarrassing 24-13 loss to the lowly Oakland Raiders.

This defeat came over a week after San Francisco was knocked off 19-3 by the Seattle Seahawks on Thanksgiving. It's one thing to lose to a top-ranked defense. It's another to suffer a defeat to a Raiders team that entered the contest with a 1-11 record.

Derek Carr and the Raiders outplayed Colin Kaepernick's 49ers in nearly every aspect.
Derek Carr and the Raiders outplayed Colin Kaepernick's 49ers in nearly every aspect.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

San Francisco's loss highlights almost everything that is wrong with this offense. It is a unit that has struggled to generate any sort of rhythm through the season. The misguided approach has failed to reveal an identity. 

The 49ers have little to worry about regarding its defense. Despite a flurry of significant injuries, this unit has largely been the reason why San Francisco is still above the .500 mark.

But in order for the 49ers to right whatever wrongs exist, the offense will need a total makeover for 2015 and beyond.

Such thought may be more fact than speculation at this point.

A reinforced offense has all but stumbled in 2014.
A reinforced offense has all but stumbled in 2014.Ryan Kang/Associated Press

A Context of Numbers

Prior to Week 14, the 49ers offense ranked No. 25 in the NFL with just 231 points scored. That's an average of just 19.25 points per contest—an average that will drop after scoring just 13 points in Oakland.

It is a unit that had generated only 3,904 yards on offense through 13 weeks. San Francisco was only able to add 248 yards on Sunday.

This was not supposed to be the case.

During the offseason, San Francisco added a number of offensive weapons. Players like wide receivers Brandon Lloyd, Stevie Johnson and Bruce Ellington were supposed to give the offense greater depth at the position and more options for quarterback Colin Kaepernick under center.

As a result, one would have expected the 49ers offense to rely more heavily upon the aerial attack—something new in the previously run-heavy approach of the head coach Jim Harbaugh era. Yet the efforts to make the 49ers offense good in every aspect have essentially forced San Francisco to be good in none.

49ers Offensive Statistics Prior to Week 14
PointsTotal YardsYards/PlayPass YardsRush YardsSacks
NFL RankNo. 25No. 22T-25No. 25No. 12No. 3

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is better known for the ground game. Before Sunday, San Francisco had attempted 385 passing attempts compared to 347 rushes on the ground. It's a shift in approach that has not benefited the 49ers.

Starting up front, San Francisco's offensive line has allowed 43 sacks on the year. This number is already much higher than the 39 allowed over the entire 2013 regular season.

Simply stated, the 49ers O-line does not pass-block well. With San Francisco passing more in 2014, the O-line is subsequently giving up more sacks. The lack of continuity—various injuries to linemen like Daniel Kilgore (leg), Anthony Davis (concussion) and Mike Iupati (elbow)—have hindered this unit's continuity.

Anthony Davis' elongated absences in 2014 have tested the O-line's depth.
Anthony Davis' elongated absences in 2014 have tested the O-line's depth.USA TODAY Sports

On top of that, Kaepernick has not responded to an increased role. His decision-making has been a constant question mark, further prompted by his 54.4-quarterback-rating performance against Oakland.

Michael David Smith of NBC Sports' Pro Football Talk elaborates further:

But Kaepernick, who threw two interceptions and was sacked five times, looked out of sync for most of the game. The 49ers had three delay of game penalties because Kaepernick repeatedly struggled to get his signals called in time, and Kaepernick’s passes often missed the mark.

The loss drops the 49ers to 7-6 and makes it a near certainty that they won’t be going to the playoffs.

Kaepernick bears a substantial portion of the blame, and it is unclear whether or not his maturation process has gained any headway in 2014.

Kaepernick's progression as a pocket passer has not transpired in 2014.
Kaepernick's progression as a pocket passer has not transpired in 2014.Tony Avelar/Associated Press

Kaepernick a Positive or Negative?

With an increased reliance upon the passing game, the 49ers' coaching staff hoped that their 27-year-old signal-caller would blossom with an added crop of targets.

This hasn't been the case.

The 49ers' franchise quarterback still reveals problems with progression reads and composure within the pocket—aspects that have haunted him during this recent stretch.

As a result, one has to wonder if Kaepernick is costing the 49ers offensively—a question discussed in the video below.

But Kaepernick's 2014 woes do not come in a vacuum. The difficulties with the O-line have been a problem. Inconsistent and uninspired play-calling also has an effect. Kaepernick can't be held responsible for the flurry of dropped passes from veteran targets like wideouts Anquan Boldin or Michael Crabtree.

He also can't benefit from the season-long lackluster season of tight end Vernon Davis.

Kaepernick has not benefited from Vernon Davis' woeful 2014 season.
Kaepernick has not benefited from Vernon Davis' woeful 2014 season.USA TODAY Sports

Yet Kaepernick has possibly reached a point where his dynamic talents are no longer enough to surprise and overcome opposing defenses. He'll have to do what almost every professional athlete needs to do—adjust his game as teams adjust to him.

San Francisco hopes he'll be able to do that. Otherwise, the front office wouldn't have rewarded him with a $126 million contract extension during the offseason. But the numerous "outs" worded into the deal suggest the front office isn't 100 percent confident in him either.

There is, however, a possibility that Kaepernick could thrive in a different system and he is safe for the immediate future—an argument that is backed up by Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area:

For instance, if the 49ers – with or without Harbaugh’s input – believe Kaepernick is not worth his scheduled $12.8 million cash value for next season, he will not return. That is highly unlikely, of course.

But it definitely sets up a huge season in 2015, when Kaepernick has to prove he’s worth $14.3 million in 2016. His scheduled pay continues to increase to $16.9 million in 2017, $17.4 million in 2018, $19.2 million in 2019 and, finally, $21.4 million in 2020.

The 49ers might be eager to see what Kaepernick is capable of doing with a new approach on offense.

But a new offensive approach would likely require a regime change, right?

The relationship between Harbaugh and Greg Roman have not generated the desired offensive numbers.
The relationship between Harbaugh and Greg Roman have not generated the desired offensive numbers.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Bigger Problem: Roman or Harbaugh?

Roman might be the easier target of frustrations surrounding the offense. For whatever reasons, the 49ers offensive coordinator has been directly involved with the implosion within San Francisco's offense.

Yet Harbaugh picked him as his coordinator and has continuously backed him through what has been Roman's worst season with the 49ers.

So if Roman is the ultimate fall boy for San Francisco's issues, does that mean Harbaugh follows suit?

News of Harbaugh's pending departure has followed the team throughout much of the 2014 season. Speculation has the 49ers potentially trading him during the offseason, with one destination being the Oakland Raiders.

But as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com writes, Harbaugh can simply void any trade and sign a new contract if he's fired.

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

How would a trade for Jim Harbaugh work? He picks the team, 2 sides agree on terms, #49ers release him from his contract, he signs a new one

The bigger question, of course, is whether or not the 49ers, as a team, have given up on their head coach—a point made in the video below.

There have been numerous players who have defended Harbaugh, including recently retired running back Marcus Lattimore (h/t Paul Gutierrez of ESPN). The reality is likely somewhere in between with some players defending their head coach and others upset with his approach. It's nothing new at the NFL level.

Still, Harbaugh doesn't have his team—especially on offense—playing at an expected level. The added distraction of the Harbaugh/front-office feud also bears weight.

There is the thought that dismissing Harbaugh would be what is best for this franchise. But parting ways with a head coach that boasts an above-.700 winning percentage is a tough choice. How will the 49ers go about replacing him? Do they look outside the organization or promote from within?

Is Frank Gore going to be a part of the 49ers' 2015 plans?
Is Frank Gore going to be a part of the 49ers' 2015 plans?USA TODAY Sports

The Fixes

Letting go of Harbaugh may be an inevitability following 2014. Roman has most likely determined his destiny even if the results aren't entirely his fault.

Yet a new, creative approach may be the best solution to San Francisco's needs. Whatever the newly implemented scheme may be, the desire to reestablish an identity is what's needed here.

The 49ers do not have an offensive identity, and running back Frank Gore was quick to point this out via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News following Sunday's loss.

“I just don’t feel like we’re us,” Gore said. “It’s just hard to get in a rhythm. It’s just hard. It’s just hard. As a player you need to be in a rhythm on the field to be successful.  It’s been tough all year to get in a rhythm.”

Cam Inman @CamInman

#49ers RB Frank Gore calls 24-13 loss low point in 'off year' http://t.co/xJXXHqM6S9

For years, Gore has been the heart of San Francisco's offense. But the 31-year-old veteran is in a contract year, and speculation would lead us to believe that he won't return. Rookie back Carlos Hyde is his heir apparent, but he has not seen the use one might have hoped for in his first pro season.

Still, the ability to turn pages is what makes franchises able to sustain long periods of dominance. 

The same could be said of other veterans like Davis, Crabtree and Boldin. Crabtree has likely priced himself out of the 49ers' future plans in 2015, but Davis and Boldin are more difficult to figure out. Boldin has one year left on his contract, but the 49ers have yet to develop any legitimate replacement for him in the long run.

The 49ers need to find long-term replacements for Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree.
The 49ers need to find long-term replacements for Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Additionally, San Francisco has suffered from the lack of a true deep threat. Davis was once that option, but his lackluster 2014 campaign has revealed a glaring need for a speedy target to take the top off opposing defenses.

There will also be those who call out Kaepernick—deservedly so after back-to-back uninspiring, two-interception performances. Perhaps a replacement is part of the fix. Or a new approach under a new offensive coaching staff will be the difference. 

That question is yet to be answered.

At any rate, the 49ers need to take a completely new look at their offense in 2015 if they want this unit to be relevant. Many of the pieces are already there, but some need to be changed.

These needs have been prompted by an offense that has scored no more than 17 points in four straight games. This unit is bad, and things haven't been much worse than they are right now.

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

Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to check out his entire archive on 49ers' news, insight and analysis.

Follow him @PeterPanacy on Twitter.


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