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The 49ers have made it to the quarter pole of the 2020 season with a 2-2 record, and given the rash of injuries that have befallen them it could be much worse.
Through four games, the 49ers’ offense is on a similar pace to the one it set last season. The Niners are averaging 5.9 yards per play so far this season and 4.7 yards per attempt on the ground, both numbers are the same as 2019. The passing game is averaging just one-tenth of a yard per attempt fewer than in 2019. The fact that the production is even remotely close to last season is a minor miracle.
Kyle Shanahan and the coaching staff have managed to get the offense rolling despite not having anywhere near a full complement of weapons at any point this season. The Niners have eighteen combined missed games this season among their starting quarterback, tight end, running back, both wide receivers and center as well as back up running back and tight end.
How can the 49ers keep the offense going as they begin to get some of those players back?
Without all of the weapons, the offense needs to be more efficient and make the plays that are there to be made. In Sunday night’s loss to the Eagles, Nick Mullens missed a throw to an open Kendrick Bourne on the first play from scrimmage. On the second play, Mullens missed a wide-open Kyle Juszczyk that would have gone for big yardage. The results of those two missed opportunities were a three-and-out on a drive that could have been much more.
The lack of efficiency is showing up in yards per game, 8.2 fewer than last year, despite having nearly identical numbers on a per play basis. The efficiency is also hurting the offense on third downs. Last season the Niners converted 6.7 third downs per game versus 5.5 per game this season.
With the missed opportunities the offense is finding itself behind the sticks and thus converting fewer third downs, holding on to the ball for fewer plays and scoring fewer points.
Offensive line changes:
One of the biggest issues (pun intended) that the 49ers have faced this season is the play of the offensive line. The line is missing center Weston Richburg, but otherwise it has been intact.
The right side of the line has been particularly troublesome. Daniel Brunskill is new to the right guard position and he has experienced some growing pains which were on full display against the Eagles. Brunskill is a former undrafted free agent who filled in well at tackle last year but being an undrafted free agent doesn’t typically come with a very long leash if his play begins to go south.
Colton McKivitz was drafted in the fifth round of the 2020 draft as a tackle, but he got most of his work in the abbreviated training camp at right guard. Typically, unit cohesion is preferred along the offensive line, but given the performance of the line so far this season a shakeup might be in order.
As he is being worked into the offense after missing Week 1 with a hamstring injury, Brandon Aiyuk has shown himself to be explosive in limited touches. Aiyuk has yet to assert himself in the passing game but he is dynamic with the ball in his hands and the 49ers need to treat him like George Kittle and get the ball in his hands any way possible.
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