There has been much optimism around the San Francisco 49ers lately—especially on Niners Nation, but it’s for a good reason. Using Warren Sharp’s football stats, the 49ers ranked 4th in the NFL in explosive run plays (runs of 10 or more yards) and 3rd in the NFL in explosive pass plays (pass plays of 15 or more yards) in 2018. That’s the genius of Head Coach Kyle Shanahan. He can scheme you, and I open if he had to. You can’t ignore the value that the players bring, either. Mark Saltveit of NN gives credit to Kyle Juszczyk.
This is the unique value of @JuiceCheck44 for the #49ers - turning good runs into explosion plays, and opening up deep passes by forcing Ds to cover him (so they can’t double Kittle). https://t.co/fBhVuZjLL4— Mark Saltveit (@taoish) May 13, 2019
The 49ers added a handful of weapons. I still think there will be a slight regression in explosive plays next year. The offense will be better overall, and that’s what matters.
Where the offense must improve
We’ve talked about the issues on third down and in the red zone. Those will improve with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. The 49ers must protect the ball in 2019. Last year the offense couldn’t get out of their own way. The Niners were 31st in turnovers per drive in 2018. You’d think their fumble luck won’t be as bad this upcoming season. The offense was seemed to give away the ball at the most inopportune times a season ago.
While some may be concerned with Garoppolo throwing eight interceptions in eight starts, this is where PFF offers value.
Am I concerned about Jimmy Garoppolo’s interceptions? Not really.— Oscar Aparicio (@BetterRivals) September 20, 2018
His 3.85% turnover-worthy play rate, a measure that’s more stable than interception rate, is just north of his ’17 rate (2.11%). And the ’18 rate is mostly driven by the Vikings game.
The process is right. When that’s the case, the numbers tend to even themselves out when there’s a bigger sample size.
You can move the ball up and down the field as much as you want. If you can’t take care of the ball, it doesn’t matter. This is why the 49ers were only 20th in the league in points per drive. They couldn’t take care of the ball. Added weapons, health at QB, and one of the best play-callers in the NFL should fix a lot of that.
Help from the special teams
Not trying to put it all on the special teams, some of this may be attributed to the other two phases, but the 49ers were dead last in starting field position last year. Starting at the 25-yard line, compared to the New Orleans Saints, who started at the 31-yard line. Again, that’s an average. The Texans, the Rams, Vikings, and Chiefs round out the top five. Field position matters.
I wonder if the second-round pick Deebo Samuel will get a crack at returning kicks. There’s an argument about not wanting certain skill players returning punts and kicks. I’m in the camp that you want to get your best player the ball as many times as you can. If that is indeed Samuel, I’d have no issue returning kicks. In a sport as physical and violent as football, injuries are inevitable. The goal isn’t to improve your starting field position; it’s to maximize it. If Samuel gives you the best chance, let him return kicks. That’ll work itself out during training camp.
QB driven league
This graphic was shared with me by Steve Palazzolo of PFF.
Again, the sample size isn’t what you’d like it to be, but when Garoppolo has been on the field, he’s performed. Not enough is made about a quarterback being able to play from a clean pocket. That’s what they’ll be playing from about 65% of the time. If Garoppolo can take care of the ball, and continue to play as he has been, the 49ers have a chance to do some damage on offense in 2019.