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49ers’ first-half review: Rushing offense not up to Kyle Shanahan’s standards

Let’s review how the 49ers’ offense has fared in the first half of the season.

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

With the bye week firmly behind us and the 49ers’ season halfway (almost) over, I thought it would be a good time to check in and see where they stand on both sides of the ball.

I’m going to use this mini-series of articles to specifically dive deep into the offense and defense and then make some bold predictions for the second half of the season.

Let’s start with the side of the ball that has been more inconsistent this season: Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Here’s a look at some advanced metrics that I use pretty often to look at a team’s overall efficiency.

Expected Points Added (EPA) per play provides a value for a single play in terms of points. The more positive the number, the more efficient your offense is.

Success Rate looks at how successful every individual play is. It’s a measure of consistency compared to boom/bust plays. For example, a five-yard gain on 1st & 10 constitutes as a successful play for the offense. However, a five-yard gain on 3rd & 7 does not.

Defensive Value Over Average (DVOA) looks at the overall body of work and adjusts it for strength of schedule, opponent, game situation, etc.

Between these three metrics, there’s a pretty good feel for a team's efficiency in a given time frame.

49ers’ Advanced Offensive Metrics, Weeks 1-8

Areas EPA per Play Success Rate DVOA
Areas EPA per Play Success Rate DVOA
Total Offense 0.035 (12th) 44.8% (15th) 4.0% (13th)
Passing Offense 0.130 (6th) 48.1% (12th) 24.0% (7th)
Rushing Offense -0.096 (25th) 40.3% (20th) -8.9% (23rd)

Kyle Shanahan’s rushing attack needs some life

Since Kyle Shanahan arrived in 2017, the emphasis on offense has been to run the ball effectively and build a passing game around it.

In 2022, the 49ers’ offense has been doing exactly the opposite. They’ve been a far more efficient passing offense, as evidenced by the metrics above while struggling to consistently gash teams on the ground.

The run-game deficiencies are likely a combination of multiple things: Elijah Mitchell’s injury, the loss of Mike McDaniel and other offensive coaches, and growing pains with the interior offensive line.

John Lynch is hoping that the addition of Christian McCaffrey will spark the rushing offense, the same way that Deebo Samuel’s emergence mid-season in 2021 lit a fire. The 49ers are also banking on the healthy return of Elijah Mitchell to add some juice to the backfield.

Since Christian McCaffrey arrived, the 49ers are 13th in Rushing Offense DVOA. It’s a small sample size, but it’s a step up from 25th, which is where they were pre-Christian McCaffrey.

If Shanahan can start to get McCaffrey, Mitchell, and the rest of the backfield humming, it will start to do wonders for the rest of their offense.

Jimmy Garoppolo might be putting together his best season with the 49ers

The 49ers’ starting quarterback is quietly putting together one of his most efficient seasons with the team while basically having no offseason and training camp due to his rehab.

Jimmy Garoppolo ranks fourth in Adjusted EPA per play (0.223) behind only Tua Tagovailoa, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen. He ranks sixth in offensive success rate (52.4%).

Both of these are fantastic indicators to show how efficiently Garoppolo has operated the 49ers’ offense this season.

Garoppolo is also sixth in the NFL in Defense Adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR), which shows how many more yards Garoppolo has thrown in similar situations with a league-average quarterback. He’s third in DVOA, behind Tagovaila and Mahomes as well.

One of Garoppolo’s strengths this season has been pushing the ball down the field and taking more chances within the construct of the offense. Pro Football Focus has a statistic called “Big Time Throws,” which are throws where the quarterback completes a pass into a tight window further down the field.

Garoppolo’s Big-Time Throw Rate in 2022 is 5.0 percent, which is by far the highest since he arrived in San Francisco. For comparison, his BTT Rate was 2.2 percent last season.

The moral of the story is that the 49ers’ passing offense has been operating smoothly, thanks in large part to the on-field conductor. But it’s only been eight games, and the 49ers’ ultimate ceiling will depend on if Garoppolo can continue to replicate these first-half performances.

San Francisco’s second-down offense needs to improve

This season, the 49ers are 26th on second-down success rate, while they are 10th on first down and 15th on third down.

Effectively, this means that San Francisco is moving the ball well on first down, struggling on second down, and converting at league average on third down.

Digging further into the numbers, the 49ers tend to be run-heavy in early-down situations, running it 51.2 percent of the time, which ranks 25th in the NFL. In those situations, their Passing EPA per play is 2nd, while their Rushing EPA per play is 20th.

In order for the 49ers’ offense to find more rhythm, Kyle Shanahan needs to rely on more pass-friendly scripts on early downs moving forward this season. That’ll lead to more favorable third-down situations, which leads to more success on that side of the ball.

It’s time for Kyle Shanahan’s unit to become more than a sum of its parts. They’ve got pieces on the outside at all the skill positions and an improving offensive line to work with. Hopefully, they’ll start to execute more consistently after the bye and play more complementary football.