Quarterback Brian Hoyer has a lowly 60.7 passer rating that puts one of his predecessors, Blaine Gabbert, in a good light and makes another, Colin Kaepernick, look like an all-star.
Through two games the 49ers rank last in the NFL in total offense, passing yards per attempt and third-down efficiency. They and the Bengals are the only teams that have yet to score a touchdown this season. And after Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, they will hit the road for three consecutive trips, the last two in the eastern time zone.
Time to hit the panic button?
The 49ers don’t even appear to be glancing in its direction.
Sure, Kyle Shanahan said all the requisite things in the run-up to the game about the need to sharpen the passing attack.
“We need Brian to step up, and we need everyone around him to step up,” the coach said on KNBR radio Wednesday.
But there also seems to be a confidence that both Hoyer and the passing offense will find their footing in due time.
For one, the most critical component of Shanahan’s attack, the running game, has been robust early in the season. Tailback Carlos Hyde ranks fourth in rushing yards with 169 while San Francisco’s 6.2 yards-per-attempt average is second best in the league.
A year ago, the 49ers had the NFL’s fourth-ranked rushing offense. But nearly a third of their total came on quarterback runs. Take those away and the 49ers’ ground attack ranked 29th.
Hoyer has minus-5 rushing yards so far this season, meaning that aborted pass plays aren’t padding the 49ers’ total. Given the interplay between the running game and passing game in Shanahan’s offense, it’s reasonable to think that success in one area will lead to production in the other.
“The defense has to worry about the running game more,” wide receiver Pierre Garcon said. “… So that definitely opens up the passing game, if not this game, then next game.”
Said Hoyer: “When you watch the film and you see you’re an inch off here, an inch off there, I think that always drives you to be better. It drives you to be that much better – an inch better, one play better. One play can change a game. I think that’s what has really driven us. Like I said, luckily for us this week coming off of a poor performance we can get back out there really quick.”
The 49ers’ paltry offensive numbers also are influenced by the defenses they faced.
Carolina and Seattle have finished among the top 10 in total defenses in each of the last five seasons with one exception, last year when the Panthers slipped and fell to No. 21.
They appear to have recaptured their form. After holding San Francisco to 217 yards and a field goal in Week 1, the Buffalo Bills managed only 176 yards and a field goal against them on Sunday. Carolina ranks first in the NFL in total defense as a result.
Most of all, there’s a realization that it’s early.
Not only are a number of NFL offenses struggling to start the season, the 49ers are only two games into a major rebuilding effort.
Shanahan and general manager John Lynch promised no quick fixes when they took over in the offseason – “How long that takes, we don’t know,” Lynch said at their introductory news conference – and the team’s ownership underwrote that approach by signing Shanahan and Lynch to rare, six-year deals.
Nearly every move that’s been made so far – rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard over veteran Matt Barkley, rookie Matt Breida over veteran runner Tim Hightower, 23-year-old linebacker Eli Harold over 33-year-old Ahmad Brooks, etc. – has been made with youth and the future in mind. The 49ers seem perfectly willing to trade losses now for wins later.
Perhaps the most sober assessment this week came from the 49ers’ Thursday opponent, Rams coach Sean McVay, who runs the same offense as Shanahan.
“I think they’re very close,” he said. “I think if you really watch the tape, you see there’s things there. Just a couple away from being really productive and making a handful of things happen.
“I know this – you look at the offenses that Kyle’s been a part of throughout the course of his career, there’s plays to be made. And I think it’s only a matter of time until things consistently click for them.”