Here’s how bad the 49ers’ offense has been over the past few weeks: The team seems to have worn out its 21-year-old punter.
Rookie Bradley Pinion was part of a long list of injured 49ers from Sunday’s 27-6 loss to the Rams. The group included nearly every member of the running backs corps, from starter Reggie Bush, who suffered a knee injury in the first quarter, to his backup, Mike Davis, who is being examined for a possible broken hand. Carlos Hyde, the usual starter, didn’t play because of a stress fracture in his foot.
Pinion, meanwhile, strained his calf on his ninth punt, requiring 40-year-old kicker Phil Dawson to handle San Francisco’s 10th and final punt, the first time he’s punted since he was in high school.
Pinion has punted 18 times in the past two games, symptomatic of an offense that can’t sustain drives, that hasn’t been in the end zone since Oct. 18 and that has scored seven or fewer points in four of eight games.
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38 Rushing yards by the 49ers against St. Louis, their fewest since 2009
Against St. Louis, the 49ers had more penalties (13) than first downs (11). Their 38 rushing yards – 28 of them by quarterback Colin Kaepernick – was their lowest total since 2009.
The problems are so ingrained that Jim Tomsula has begun to repeat himself after games, trying his best to blame himself but struggling to come up with solutions.
“Obviously I haven’t gotten to the right answer yet,” the 49ers’ coach said. “But we’ll find the right answer.”
Playing down to reputations
Sunday’s game featured the two worst offenses in the league, and early on, the 49ers and Rams played down to their reputations. The Rams got on the scoreboard for the first time late in the first quarter when Davis was stuffed in his end zone for a safety.
Two snaps earlier, another run by Davis from San Francisco’s 3-yard line also lost yardage. On the play, one of the Rams’ cornerbacks drifted close to the line of scrimmage to defend the run, leaving wide receiver Torrey Smith uncovered on the outside.
Smith waved his hand to alert Kaepernick and after the play jumped up and down in frustration. He finished with two catches for 19 yards and a drop.
“No, I didn’t see the corner close down on that,” Kaepernick said. “That’s something that I should have been able to adjust out of.”
He completed fewer than half of his throws – 20 of 41 for 162 yards – and finished with a lowly 59.2 passer rating. But while Kaepernick has been the focus of previous blowout losses this year, Sunday’s collapse centered around San Francisco’s dwindling and ineffective running back corps.
By game’s end, Kendall Gaskins, who was on the practice squad Friday, was the 49ers’ only healthy runner. A day earlier, the 49ers waived Aussie Jarryd Hayne with the hope of adding him to the practice squad on Monday.
They have so many injuries now, they may have to re-sign Hayne to the active roster as well as add a veteran runner. The 49ers worked out free agent Pierre Thomas, a longtime member of the Saints, last month.
By game’s end, Kendall Gaskins, who was on the practice squad Friday, was the 49ers’ only healthy runner.
Kaepernick not only entered halftime without his top three running backs, he didn’t have his favorite target, Anquan Boldin, who was dealing with a hamstring injury and who missed his first game since 2012.
“It’s difficult,” Kaepernick said. “It’s something we have to be able to make up for. We have to be able to make plays with other players, and we weren’t able to get that done today.”
In contrast, the Rams seem to be getting stronger each week at running back.
Their first-round draft choice, Todd Gurley, finished with 133 rushing yards and has surpassed 125 in each of his four starts, the first time that’s happened in the NFL. More than half his yardson Sunday came on one run in the second quarter.
The Rams pulled a guard to the right side of the line, stonewalled the 49ers’ inside linebackers and created a huge hole for Gurley, who burst through and didn’t stop until he was in the end zone 71 yards downfield.
Fellow rookie Jaquiski Tartt, a safety making his first start, was unblocked. But the 49ers’ second-round pick took a bad angle and was caught in no man’s land as Gurley blew past him.
Linebacker Navorro Bowman led all tacklers with 13 stops.
When asked what went wrong on Gurley’s run, Bowman said: “I don’t know. We held them off so much. A part in the machine just didn’t work as well, and they got a big play.”