The Battle for the Bottom begins Sunday.
In one corner we have the 31st-ranked 49ers offense, which averages 293.5 yards a game. San Francisco has scored fewer points – by far – than any team in the league (14.6 per game) and has allowed the most sacks (52). The 49ers are four sacks from setting a franchise record in that category.
14.6 49ers’ points per game, by far the fewest in the NFL
In the other corner is the 32nd-ranked Rams offense, which averages 293.1 yards. St. Louis has the NFL’s worst passing offense and also is 32nd in first downs (220) and third-down-conversion percentage (26.1 percent). The 49ers are 31st in those two categories.
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How did we get here?
At their end-of-year news conference, the 49ers might say that their ship was wracked by unforeseen squalls and punctured by hidden reefs, and in some cases that’s true.
It’s also important to remember that the 49ers haven’t had a high-revving, high-scoring offense since Steve Mariucci was the coach. Last year, for example, the team was 25th in points per game.
But the 49ers’ brass largely is being paid for its foresight. The job is to analyze, anticipate problems and provide options B and C if option A is unavailable. And in these ways, those who run the 49ers have failed:
1. Running back woes
At one point, Carlos Hyde – remember him? – was the NFL’s leading rusher. He came out of the chute in Week 1 with the aggression of a Brahma bull. But he could not sustain that style. He suffered a head injury in Week 2 that kept him out of the second half. He broke his foot in Week 5, eventually knocking him out for the season.
Asked if Hyde needs to alter his approach, coach Jim Tomsula said the 49ers drafted him for his hard-charging style and won’t ask him to change. Still, it’s hard to see Hyde lasting a full season as a workhorse runner.
He missed two games in 2014 because of an ankle injury when he was Frank Gore’s backup. He missed at least two games each season he was at Ohio State for reasons ranging from suspension to an MCL sprain.
Reggie Bush, who sat out five games because of injuries while playing for Detroit in 2014, played only 48 offensive snaps for the 49ers this year, and Mike Davis (hand) and Shaun Draughn (knee) also missed extended periods.
4 Different starters at running back for the 49ers this season
Gore has started every game for four seasons, including this year with the Colts; the 49ers have had four different starters at running back this season.
2. Offensive line issues
Tackle Anthony Davis didn’t do the team any favors when he announced in June that he wouldn’t play in 2015. Had he decided that in March or April, the 49ers could have made a move earlier in the draft instead of waiting until the sixth round to select an offensive lineman.
Still, the 49ers allowed one of the top guards in the league, Mike Iupati, to depart as a free agent with the thought that one of several young linemen drafted by general manager Trent Baalke would rise in his place.
That didn’t happen. Marcus Martin was forced to play center, where he was the lowest-rated player in the NFL. Brandon Thomas and Ian Silberman didn’t take a snap. The 49ers instead relied on two players, Jordan Devey and Andrew Tiller, who were not drafted by Baalke.
3. Tight end trouble
The 49ers entered the season thinking tight end was a strength. That struck the ear as odd when it was iterated in the summer. It now seems laughable.
One of those tight ends, Vernon Davis, seemed indifferent during the 2014 season while another, Vance McDonald, seemed unreliable. Neither did anything to change those notions this year. The 49ers’ best – or at least most consistent – tight end was Garrett Celek, and he ended the season on injured reserve for the second straight year.
The 49ers affirmed their miscalculation at midseason by trading Davis, one of three tight ends they dealt in 2015. Their tight end corps to end the year: McDonald, Blake Bell, Brian Leonhardt and Je’Ron Hamm.