Although the 49ers began the season 2-0, it was difficult to evaluate their status as a true playoff contender given their opponents. The Lions — their Week 1 opponent — still haven’t won a game, and the Eagles — their Week 2 foe — got shellacked on Monday Night Football and have dropped two straight since an opening week win against the lowly Falcons.
The advanced efficiency metrics screamed that the 49ers had one of the better passing offenses in the NFL, while San Francisco’s rushing offense and overall defense were middle of the pack.
Outside of the first half in Detroit, the eye test hasn’t necessarily match the advanced numbers. Jimmy Garoppolo and the offense scratched and clawed their way to victory in Philadelphia, but they didn’t have much success outside of two drives. Likewise, against Green Bay, the offense came out flat in the first half, including multiple punts and an interception in the first half, before a Trey Lance rushing touchdown.
San Francisco’s offense looked stale on Sunday, like the Packers’ defense didn’t feel threatened at all by the 49ers’ vertical passing attack. Instead, green Bay stacked the line of scrimmage with defenders while also routinely placing their safeties within 10 yards. That’s the ultimate sign of disrespect towards an opposing quarterback, aka “we don’t believe you can beat us over the top.”
Joe Barry and the Packers’ defense dared Jimmy Garoppolo to beat them over the top of the defense.
The result? 0-of-2, 0 yards, 1 INT, 0.0 Rtg. That's where the conundrum for Kyle Shanahan lies. He has a starting quarterback who’s limiting the offense with his inability to consistently make accurate throws down the field, which is having negative ripple effects on the rest of the offense.
During Sunday’s game, the rushing attack averaged 2.9 yards per carry, and running back, Trey Sermon faced at least eight men in the box on 40 percent of his carries. With defenses not having to worry about a vertical passing attack, they’re able to commit more resources towards stopping the run — and it’s working so far.
Here were different first-down plays from Sunday’s game showing how the Packers lined up their safeties. Barry and Green Bay’s defenders had zero worry about being beaten down the field.
In the NBA, when teams don’t feel threatened by their opponent’s three-point shooting ability, they crowd the paint and dare them to shoot from outside and win that way.
Right now, defenses are daring Jimmy Garoppolo to beat them over the top or outside the numbers. Last Sunday, it ultimately didn’t matter because the 49ers’ defense was excellent in the second half. However, this Sunday against Aaron Rodgers, DeMeco Ryans’ unit couldn’t save the day, and the 49ers’ offense couldn’t pick up the slack.
Kyle Shanahan’s conundrum is between a veteran quarterback who elevates the floor of the offense, but is inaccurate down the field and commits bone-headed mistakes from time to time and a 21-year old rookie who will probably go through some growing pains.
Add in the fact that the 49ers have playoff expectations and pressure given their disappointing 2020 season,n and Kyle Shanahan has a real problem on his hands.
Shanahan’s passing attack isn’t hitting enough big plays down the field, and ultimately it’s closing down rushing lanes for his ground attack to be lethal. So with multiple divisional matchups coming in the following weeks, how does Shanahan go about solving his conundrum?
If it were possible, the simplest solution would involve Garoppolo being more accurate or Lance being ready to start full-time — but neither of those looks likely to happen within the next five days.
I think the most realistic approach to this situation would be to utilize Trey Lance more and let their most dynamic — yet inexperienced — quarterback get more opportunities to touch the ball.
Lance’s threat as a rusher will only help the ground game, and he has the arm talent to hit explosive plays down the field. Giving Lance more snaps (outside of the red zone) will give him more experience, while also adding another element that defenses have to prepare for.
San Francisco’s offense is too one-dimensional right now, and it needs an influx of new energy, and I believe that will come in the form of the ex-North Dakota State quarterback.
Kyle Shanahan’s currently calling games with one hand tied behind his back due to the limitations of his veteran quarterback, but Shanahan isn’t helping himself out by not playing Trey Lance more.
As the 49ers get into the tough part of their schedule, I believe that Shanahan’s quarterback problem is only going to get more and more obvious. San Francisco might be 2-1, but I think their issues at the quarterback position overshadow their position in the standings.