Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Do the 49ers have an identity crisis on offense? Joe Staley thinks so...and he’s not alone

Oct 12, 2021 at 10:37 AM--

Do the San Francisco 49ers have an identity crisis on offense? Former 49ers great, and current analyst, Joe Staley, thinks so. And he's not the only one.

Staley went on KNBR's Papa & Lund show on Monday to talk 49ers. In addition to saying Kyle Shanahan will likely go back to Jimmy Garoppolo in two weeks, but that the offense is more exciting with Trey Lance, Staley spent some time talking about the identity of the team. Particularly, the identity of the offense.

"What's been shocking to me is that, one of the things, too, has been that stretch zone, but all the play-action roll-outs, that was one of our identities, the keep game. And it hasn't been there at all. And it's almost like they're trying to find and involve that new identity," said Staley.

"When we, in 2019, had that great offensive year, obviously it was predicated on our run game and everything that came off of that, but it was also the play design and getting out of the pocket, and stretching and how the plays built on each other."

In 2019, the 49ers offense was really good. It wasn't "Walsh-Camelot days" good, but it was good. It was a creative offense with misdirection and an innovative rushing attack that was laser-focused on finding a defense's weaknesses, and then exposing them. It was an offense that media members lauded, opposing coaches dreaded, and other teams copied. There were multiple formations, and out of those formations came a number of plays that all looked alike until the ball was snapped. It was one of the things that made that offense hard to defend.

Then there were the jet sweeps, the misdirection, the motion, and the stretch run plays that featured running backs as fast as NFL receivers and defensive backs. Defenses were kept guessing...and struggled to keep up.

Additionally, the run game set up a lot of opportunities for Garoppolo to use play-action, roll-outs, or anything else to force the defense to run sideline to sideline. This, along with creative routes schemed up for the wide receivers and tight ends, made the 49ers offense a consistent threat.

But some of the luster, some of the shine, some of the creative genius that made Kyle Shanahan the talk of the league, seems to be lost right now in a haze of questions, beginning with "who are the San Francisco 49ers offensively?" Where is that creative 2019 offense? Was it just smoke and mirrors? Has the league caught up to the Shanahan offense? Do the 49ers have an identity crisis on offense?

Said Staley, "Right now we're not finding that consistency in either the run or the pass game, so it looks a little bit disjointed right now, and it's like individual plays are not really building upon each other. I think through the first five weeks of the season, this team, especially the offense, is really still searching for an identity of what they can always lean on, and what are our core plays, that we are going to be very good, that we can call in any situation?"

Staley is not alone in his assessment. Matt Maiocco, of NBC Sports Bay Area, went on KNBR this week to talk about the 49ers. He also wrote about this topic, asking if the 49ers have an identity crisis on offense.

Maiocco wrote, "Coach Kyle Shanahan, widely considered one of the best offensive minds in football, has been unable to figure out the current iteration of the 49ers. Through five games, the 49ers' offense is lacking an identity — other than knowing wide receiver Deebo Samuel is the team's only playmaker."

Samuel has certainly been a bright spot. He is second in the NFL in receiving yards, and has shown the capacity to make some great changes in big moments. But he also dropped a couple of passes on Sunday, which fit the theme of the day- the offensive veterans, in a game where they should be helping their rookie quarterback who was making his first start, consistently let Lance down.

There were dropped passes, missed assignments, penalties, and missed blocks that forced Lance to run for his life most of the game. There was even a drive that included three holding penalties. The offense struggled. And the offense has struggled most of the year, with the exception of the first half in Detroit and the second half against Green Bay. There have been flashes, but so far, no consistency. And it's all, perhaps, because of a lack of identity. As Staley mentioned, when the game is on the line, or you need that one play you know can get the first down, the 49ers seem to draw a blank.

Maiocco added to that, "The 49ers do not have a reliable component of their offense that they can count on in difficult situations. And that lack of self-awareness accounts for the biggest reason the 49ers repeatedly come up short in crucial situations."

He's right. They both are. If the 49ers offense indeed has an identity crisis, they need to take a self-discovery journey and find themselves. Quickly.
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