The 49ers are on the verge of surpassing 2,000 rushing yards this season, a milestone the Philadelphia Eagles hit only once in three seasons under coach Chip Kelly and about 500 yards more than San Francisco gained on the ground last year.
So why hasn’t Kelly’s offense with the 49ers had anywhere near the success he had in Philadelphia?
Each of those Eagles teams threw for more than 4,000 yards. With a league-low 2,720 yards entering Sunday’s season finale against the Seattle Seahawks, his 2016 offense with the 49ers will be hard pressed to reach even 3,000 and likely will be the only one in the NFL to fall short of that mark. By comparison, former 49ers offensive coordinator Geep Chryst’s unit passed for 3,316 yards last season.
119 49ers’ passing yardage in a 37-18 loss to Seattle in Week 3
The 49ers have two big-ticket items to address in the offseason: a defense that can’t stop the opponent’s running game; and a passing game lacking pop.
With Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton on injured reserve, none of the 49ers’ receivers who will play Sunday were on the 53-man roster last year. Furthermore, only rookie receiver Aaron Burbridge and second-year player DeAndre Smelter went through training camp this summer with the 49ers.
“It’s interesting, all the guys that are playing here weren’t with us last year,” Kelly said. “So (Rod) Streater wasn’t with us, (Jeremy) Kerley wasn’t with us, (Chris) Harper wasn’t with us. … So when you go through OTAs and everything we did, none of the guys that are playing for us right now were even here for any of that stuff. So I think for where we got them, they’ve done a nice job.”
On Sunday, the 49ers face a Seahawks defense that held them to 119 passing yards in a 37-18 blowout in Week 3.
In theory offenses that run the ball well pass efficiently because secondaries must play closer to the line of scrimmage and play-action fakes slow the pass rush.
Kelly, however, said those advantages are minimized if a defense sticks to man-to-man coverage. That’s what the 49ers overwhelmingly have seen this season, and the Seahawks, who have perhaps the league’s best man-coverage cornerback in Richard Sherman, do it better than any other defense.
2,720 49ers’ league-low passing yardage this season
“If you play zone (defense) teams that are vision-and-break teams, and their eyes are always on the quarterback all the time, I think that would have an effect,” Kelly said of the interplay between the run and pass games. “When you play teams that play more man coverage, play-action pass doesn’t really have a lot of effect because (they’re) not looking in the backfield at the run or the play-action pass because (their) job is to cover the receiver.”
Asked what kind of defenses he saw when he ran the Eagles’ offense, Kelly said it varied from year to year.
“I think it depends a lot on what your wide receivers can do,” he said. “Do they want to play you in man and can they match up with you receiver-wise?”
Kerley will end the season as the 49ers’ leading receiver. He has 58 catches for 606 yards and three touchdowns. His receiving yardage ranks 69th.
Kerley, Streater and Patton are scheduled to be free agents in March.