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49ers of the 1990s dominated Football Outsiders offensive rankings

When will we see the 49ers return to those heights?

The San Francisco 49ers hired Kyle Shanahan to turn around an offense that has struggled with consistency for some time now. Even when things were going well under Jim Harbaugh, the offense could be touch and go at times. They ranked 11th in points scored in each of 2011, 2012, and 2013, but as a whole, the 49ers have not ranked in the top ten in scoring since 2003.

Since launching in 2003, Football Outsiders has provided some context to football that did not previously exist. Since their launch, FO has worked to introduce historical ratings to their system. They have been going season-by-season, and this offseason they finished up the 1988 and 1987 seasons. That gives them 30 seasons of football, which is a nice round number. This week, they are taking that information and assessing some of the greatest offenses and defenses of the past 30 years.

On Monday, FO broke out the top 30 offenses of the past 30 years. The New England Patriots lead the way, with the 2007 Patriots ranking No. 1, and the 2010 Patriots ranking No. 2. The 49ers do not have any teams ranked from this century, but if we go back to decade prior, they show up regularly.

FO’s Aaron Schatz used the DVOA statistic to evaluate the offense. After that, we start going into the 49ers rankings, from top down

“Our DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metric accounts for all [variables], measuring success on each play based on down and distance, then comparing it with an NFL average baseline adjusted for situation and opponent,” Schatz writes. “0 percent DVOA represents the league average, so an offense with a +30 percent mark rated 30 percent better than an average unit.”

28. 1994: +24.5 percent DVOA

The 49ers faced the easiest offensive schedule in the league in 1994, and their running backs averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. If these rankings included only the regular season, the 49ers would have ranked No. 77 among offenses since 1987. However, they were phenomenal in the postseason, scoring 131 points in three games with only two turnovers.

23. 1998: +26.8 percent DVOA

Steve Young's last hurrah: He led the NFL with 36 passing touchdowns, and Garrison Hearst led all running backs with 5.1 yards per carry. Opponents keyed on Jerry Rice, who caught just 54 percent of his targets, but that opened things up for Terrell Owens to catch 67 passes for 1,097 yards and 14 touchdowns.

11. 1993: +32.3 percent DVOA

San Francisco averaged 6.30 yards per play in 1993, when no other offense was above 5.65. Halfback Ricky Watters, fullback Marc Logan and quarterback Steve Young each averaged at least 4.6 yards per carry compared with an NFL average of 3.9, which is how the 1993 49ers rank No. 4 all time in rushing DVOA despite not having a single runner with more than 1,000 yards.

10. 1989: +32.4 percent DVOA

This was Jerry Rice's best season by FO stats: 1,483 yards and 17 touchdowns with a 64 percent catch rate added up to 563 receiving DYAR, the fourth-highest total of the past 30 years. Joe Montana completed 70.2 percent of his passes, one of only two quarterbacks before the year 2000 to complete 70 percent of passes with at least a dozen games started. Despite these impressive numbers, the 1989 49ers would be 25th in offensive DVOA if we looked only at the regular season. But this team made its legend in the playoffs. The 49ers had a 41-13 win over the Vikings (No. 2 in defensive DVOA), dominated the Rams (No. 13 in defense) 30-3 and then won the Super Bowl 55-10 over the Broncos (No. 4 in defense).

6. 1992: +34.3 percent DVOA

From an offensive perspective, this was the pinnacle of the 49ers' glory years, and the team went 14-2 despite being just average on defense and special teams. San Francisco led the NFL with both 7.6 net yards per pass attempt and 4.8 rushing yards per carry. This was the most run-focused of the great 49ers teams, partly because wide receiver John Taylor broke his leg halfway through the season against the Jets. However, Steve Young still led all quarterbacks in passing DYAR and finished second in rushing DYAR behind Randall Cunningham, Jerry Rice was fourth in receiving DYAR among wideouts and Brent Jones was No. 1 among tight ends.

I’m a little surprised we don’t see more of the 49ers on this list, but I imagine quite a few are just off the top 25. From 1987 to 2001, the 49ers ranked in the top ten in scoring all but one year (1999). They ranked No. 1 in scoring six times, including 1987, 1989, and 1992-1995.

The past three seasons, the 49ers ranked No. 27, No. 32, and No. 25 in points scored. Looking ahead to the Kyle Shanahan offensive era, what do you think they will rank in this first season? Will we see a modest resurgence, a big change, or will they struggle for another year?


Where will the 49ers offense rank in points scored this season?

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