49ers at Dolphins: Matt Barrows' 5 players to watch
As you sit down and dine next to people with wildly different viewpoints this week, raise a glass to Chip Kelly and Trent Baalke.
When Baalke, the 49ers general manager, hired Kelly in January, the two used every opportunity to declare how like-minded they were. Baalke said they “shared a similar vision” and Kelly agreed.
“I think we see the game the same way,” he said. “I think we have a philosophy that’s similar. Now, we may go about it somewhat differently, but I really do believe we’re on the same page from that standpoint.”
Both men love to run the ball, they said. Both like tough, physical players. Both even share a fascination with long-armed college prospects.
But the combination of Baalke’s players – built for a methodical, power-oriented offense – and Kelly’s lightning-paced attack have made for an odd mix.
Kelly’s Philadelphia offenses ranked No. 2, No. 5 and No. 12 the last three seasons. His San Francisco offense currently sits at No. 30. A loss in Miami on Sunday would be the 49ers’ 10th consecutive defeat, a record for a franchise celebrating its 70th season this year.
Kelly caused a stir this week when he said the 49ers couldn’t catch up to the Patriots late in Sunday’s game because their offense is, and has been from the very get-go this season, predicated on the run. This from a head coach who became famous for pouring on points. In his final year at Oregon, his team surpassed 50 points seven times.
“We’re built to run the football,” Kelly said. “Carlos (Hyde) is the main focus of what we’re doing offensively. We have a running quarterback that complements him and then our play-action pass complements that, and when we’re running the ball successfully and play-action pass off of that, we’re very good as an offensive football team.”
To bolster Kelly’s assertion, the 49ers rank fifth in total rushing yards through 10 games. But it doesn’t feel like fifth to a fan base accustomed to watching Frank Gore and a beefy offensive line grind down opponents in recent years.
The 49ers certainly aren’t getting the traditional benefits of a top-five running attack. Their average time of possession ranks last in the league. That means it’s not the opponent’s defense that’s gassed in the fourth quarter. It’s San Francisco’s, which typically logs 70-plus snaps a game and leads the league in that category.
The team’s rushing total this season also is a bit skewed because so many yards – 432 – have been gained on quarterback scrambles. That’s 36 percent of the team’s total.
Hyde, who missed two games with a shoulder injury, ranks 20th in the NFL in rushing yards (529), 15th in per-game average (66.1) and 33rd in yards per carry (3.75).
Baalke and Kelly both may believe in a strong running game, but the way they’ve gone about it in the past has been different. Baalke, for instance, has prided himself on his ability to find NFL-caliber fullbacks and tight ends.
Kelly’s offense doesn’t even use a fullback and, according to Pro Football Focus, has used three wide receivers on 80 percent of its offensive plays this season.
In 2013, Kelly’s Eagles finished first in the NFL in rushing. But they also could pass – they ranked ninth in that category – allowing the two facets to complement each other. This year’s 49ers rank 31st in passing offense and are obviously deficient at wide receiver.
The only wideout Baalke drafted was Aaron Burbridge, and he wasn’t taken until the sixth round. Burbridge has some nice skills. But his best attributes – toughness, downfield blocking, fearlessness – are the ones that fit the 49ers’ previous ground-and-pound offenses. In other words, Kelly is largely working with what Jim Tomsula had last year.
When there’s a new cook in the kitchen, a team usually runs out and gets new ingredients.
Kelly is working with leftovers.