The 49ers passing game "weakness"

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We take a look at the 49ers apparent weakness in the passing game, and why it's not such a weakness. New to Niners Nation? Sign up here and join the discussion!

Earlier today, I posted various stats connected to the San Francisco 49ers upcoming matchup with the Carolina Panthers. It is interesting to note that as of this week, the 49ers rank first in the NFL in rushing yards per game, and last in the NFL in passing yards per game.

Of course, as the world of analytics has told us over and over again, counting stats hold limited value. Chase Stuart put together an article for the New York Times in which he looked at the primary weakness for each team with no more than two losses. For the 49ers, he discussed the passing attack:

San Francisco has thrown on just 44.2 percent of its plays, easily the lowest rate in the league. That works well when the team has a lead, but would the 49ers be able to mount a comeback? The team has trailed at halftime in only two games this season, but both of those games ended up being embarrassing losses. San Francisco will be tested in the playoffs; it will not be able to hide its passing game.

That explains in part the lack of passing yards per game. The 49ers rank last in that category, but Football Outsiders ranks their passing game No. 4. That comes thanks to some fairly high impact big plays in the passing game. They are not reflected in counting stats because the 49ers simply have not frequently been in a position where they felt the need to throw too excessively.

The question now is how the 49ers offense will adjust as players return. Mario Manningham is likely to be on the field this Sunday, and we are hopefully less than a month away from the return of Michael Crabtree. I don't expect a complete 180 in how this offense operates, but this opens the door for a variety of new options.

The passing game has been efficient, even if it hasn't been voluminous. The team has Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin on pace for 1,000 yards, but the returns of Manningham and Crabtree likely means their paces will slow. Even still, the efficiency could very well be joined with more volume in the coming weeks.

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