Well, it’s sure been an exciting week. I chose this topic before the San Francisco 49ers traded a second-round draft pick for New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Let’s be upfront about this trade: There’s no proof that Garoppolo is an immediate improvement for the 49ers. He hasn’t taken a regular-season snap since September 18, 2016. Also, he’ll be playing behind a porous offensive line. Unless the 49ers teach rookie offensive lineman Erik Magnuson how to block correctly and with violence, Garoppolo may have similar struggles that plagued former quarterback Brian Hoyer and current starter C.J. Beathard.
So, until Garoppolo hits the field, I’m not ready to count him as the immediate improvement. Instead, here’s a single change the 49ers can make to improve this week.
Run the Ball
Head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan loves to throw the ball. There could be any number of reasons why, but if he’s using a hybrid of the West Coast Offense, then the goal is to control the ball through the air rather than on the ground.
Now, the 49ers lack three critical components for a successful pass attack:
· An offensive line
· An effective and talented quarterback
· Receivers who don’t accumulate a league-leading 27 drops through Week 8
Take a look at these numbers.
This season, the 49ers rank first in the league in pass attempts with 315, and 22nd overall with 182 rushes.
While Hoyer was behind center, he attempted 205 throws through six weeks of football. In that same period, Shanahan called roughly 120 rush attempts.
Under the bruised and beaten reign of Beathard, he threw the ball 110 times, and Shanahan called 62 runs.
No matter who’s behind center, Shanahan calls 1.7 times more passes than runs. In fact, the number of pass attempts over rushes increased slightly with Beathard as the starter.
It’s clear Shanahan wants to throw his way out of the losing column; so far, that strategy has not worked.
Despite the offseason nonsense that Hoyer was the bridge quarterback because he “knows Shanahan’s system” the whole world knew how poorly Hoyer plays the position. The 49ers wasted $10 million to find this out for themselves.
Yet, Shanahan wanted to throw.
Once Beathard took the first-string position, it was time to see what the rookie could do. So, with no large surprise, Shanahan elected to throw.
Two-and-a-half games later, we know that Beathard needs a lot more work before he’s ready to lead an NFL offense.
Like fashion and interior design, football ebbs and flows through various time periods. Sometimes, fans watch an offense come up a play design that immediately becomes all the rage. Other times, a coordinator can look at an old play through a different lens, alter it slightly and make it look unique.
Today, football is a pass-heavy monster, with spread formations, pistol backfields, wide receiver screens and run-pass option plays flooding playbooks. That fact rings true in Santa Clara as well.
The best thing Shanahan can do right now is take a deep breath. His offensive scheme may be astonishing, but right now, it’s not working. He has to rethink the way he calls games and balance out his attack.
Running backs Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida need to take on a more significant share of the offensive workload for the remaining eight games. A steadier and consistent run game is going to improve the pass offense faster than increasing the number of throws by Beathard or Garoppolo.