As the old saying goes, victory has a thousand fathers, while failure is an orphan. Unfortunately, when it came to the 49ers’ offense last year, there’s one area where there’s plenty of blame: three-and-outs. On today’s Gold Diggers podcast, Michelle Magdziuk jumped into the lab and pinpointed where things went wrong last season.
The 49ers’ offense did not exactly come out swinging early in games. In the first half last year, the Niners went three-and-out 21.8% of the time - 18th best in the league. Not surprisingly, San Francisco didn’t light up the scoreboard in the first half of a lot of games. Including the playoffs, there were 11 instances last season where Kyle Shanahan’s bunch went into halftime, scoring 10 or fewer points - including six times in their first eight games. They also scored 10 or fewer first-half points in two of their three playoff games, including the NFC Championship Game loss to the Rams.
The good news, however, is that they did improve after halftime. In the second half, the 49ers’ three-and-out rate dropped all the way down to 13.8%, which was 6th best in the NFL.
Why did this happen? It’s impossible to say for sure, but it’s probably a combination of factors.
Let’s start broadly with the coaching staff. Kyle Shanahan’s offense is like a train. It takes a little while to get up to speed, but once it’s rolling, it is very difficult to stop. Shanahan knows exactly how to sequence plays to set his offense up for big gains. The problem with that is that those “explosives,” as Kyle calls them, can never happen if the plays at the beginning of the sequence aren’t successful. If a train can’t build up any speed, it just lumbers down the tracks. As Joe Staley told us last year, everything builds off of itself.
“The way that Kyle’s system is based, it’s really built through their ability to get those first downs and to get into a rhythm. Kyle calls plays not just like, ‘Hey, this is going to be an explosive shot.’ It has to be set up, and it has to be set up not only on a drive but in a quarter and [in] a half. He doesn’t go into a game and say, ‘Here are four or five plays that I really like.’ It’s a ‘These are four or five concepts that I really like, and we are going to run the hell out of these concepts. Then as the game goes on, we will build shot plays off of these concepts, but they have to be set up first.”
Some blame also has to fall on the quarterback, whether it was Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance. We can all recite multiple times where a 49ers’ passer didn’t see an open receiver or snuffed out a promising drive with a bone-headed turnover. While they might have struggled for different reasons, Garoppolo and Lance sometimes left yards out on the field.
If the 49ers are going to avoid another 3-5 start this year, they’re going to have to get the train rolling down the tracks a lot sooner than they did last season. Michelle and I dove a lot deeper into these issues on the show and finished our fantasy preview with tight ends - plus, she made fun of how I drink tea, so you should definitely go and check that out.