The San Francisco 49ers were stopped, again, on offense. While their opponent was the Seattle Seahawks, the abysmal numbers they put up suggest a problem in play calling more than anything.
The 49ers have the potential, but need to figure out how to properly use their weapons.
Aside from two games, Kaepernick has been a more than capable passer. He has six TDs and five interceptions, four of which came against the Cardinals and one against the Packers. His completion percentage is up to 61.4%, only a 1% increase from last year, but still an improvement.
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And, as seen in Thursday Night’s game, Kaepernick is willing to stay in the pocket and lock downfield rather than take off running.
Kaepernick did not have one rushing attempt last night. He completed just over 50% of his passes (13/24), had 124 yards, and, most importantly, was sacked 6 times. His favorite target was Vernon Davis, whose production has been minimal over the past two seasons, and Kaepernick made some nice throws (most notably a back shoulder pass to Anquan Boldin).
The biggest problem that Kaepernick faces is his inability to spread the ball around. Boldin has 53 targets, 27 more than the next closest receiver (newly acquired Torrey Smith). Smith only has 26 targets and 14 receptions; however, he does have 323 yards because when he does catch the ball it is for a huge gain.
Since his first full season as the starting QB, Kaepernick has always targeted Boldin significantly more than any other receiver. In 2013, when Michael Crabtree was injured, Kaepernick targeted Boldin 130 times. Davis was second with 84. In 2014, Boldin again had 130 targets, with Crabtree receiving 108.
While the numbers in 2014 were much closer than in 2013, it must be noted that the next player with the most targets was Stevie Johnson with 50. Kaepernick has a tendency to pick one or two players as his favorite targets, something not uncommon in the league, but a problem when your team does not run the ball.
Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde
This past offseason, Frank Gore joined the Indianapolis Colts. Gore had been the backbone of the offense for 10 seasons and had over 250 attempts and 1100 yards in ’13 and ’14. In those two years, the 49ers had an adequate backup as well. Kendall Hunter in 2013 rushed for 371 yards for a good 5.2 average, and Carlos Hyde in 2014 rushed for 333 yards for a 4.0 average.
The biggest issue with this year’s 49ers offense (aside from the offensive line) is the inconsistency in the running game.
In the first game of the season, Hyde had 26 touches for 168 yards and two TDs. In the next three games, Hyde had 13, 15, and 8 touches. It is fair to note that the 49ers were always playing from behind, forcing them into more passing situations.
Since the game against Green Bay, Hyde enjoyed two consecutive games with 21 carries against the Giants and Ravens. While they lost to the Giants (on a last minute catch by Larry Donnell), the 49ers were able to beat the Ravens thanks to their passing game.
Thursday Night, however, the 49ers did not even give their running game a chance to get started. Hyde had 11 touches for 40 yards, good for 3.6 yards per carry, while Reggie Bush had four carries for 21 yards (5.3 yards per carry). Again, they were playing from behind the entire game and had to throw the ball, but even from the first series they put the running game on the backburner.
Kaepernick and the offense opened the game with a pass to Quinton Patton for two yards, a one-yard pass to Vance McDonald, and an incompletion. The next series, Hyde had one touch for two yards, followed by two more incompletions. Finally, by the third series Hyde had an opportunity with a run for 13 yards, then a neutral zone infraction, followed by another rush for nine yards.
In the third series, the 49ers got two first downs thanks to Hyde, the first two of the game for them. After that, Kaepernick was sacked for a loss of five, Hyde was stuffed for a loss of three, and finally, Bush caught a pass for four yards before the 49ers punted for the third time.
The 49ers finished the games with a season-high nine punts. The entire team was unable to gain any type of momentum throughout the game, with the exception of the one drive resulting in a field goal.
Obviously, the offense hinges on the line being able to create holes for the running back and stopping the quarterback from getting hit all game (Kaepernick has been sacked 25 times). But, it most be noted that the 49ers do not completely know their identity on offense.
There seems to be a lack of trust between Kaepernick and the rest of his receivers. Torrey Smith has been relatively ineffective, as well as Vernon Davis. Carlos Hyde’s usage is full of peaks and valleys, but the biggest issue is the play calling. This team lacks an identity.
In the past, the 49ers relied on Gore and the running game. This year, the team is giving Hyde a chance, but even against one of the best secondaries in the league in the Seahawks, the 49ers decided to come out throwing. If Hyde can get more opportunities, maybe Kaepernick will have less pressure (as he did against the Viking, Giants, and Ravens) and have a chance to play up to his potential.