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The 49ers are living up to expectations two weeks into 2017 season

Sep 18, 2017 at 12:37 PM


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The San Francisco 49ers have kicked off the 2017 regular season with a 0-2 record and have yet to discover any sort of offensive continuity, suggesting the Niners are right where many thought they would be at this point during the team's rebuild.


Two weeks into the 2017 NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers are 0-2 and are one of just three teams yet to score a touchdown (the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Giants -- playing on Monday Night Football).

On one hand, it's a bad look for head coach Kyle Shanahan -- the offensive genius, who led one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL last season as coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. Shanahan was supposed to install some life into this group, despite lacking a good enough crop of offensive playmakers.

So far, it isn't happening.

Through two games, the Niners rank 28th in total yardage (465) and are dead last on third-down conversion percentage (17.39). Those aren't stats typical for Shanahan. Should the 49ers be panicking? Is it time to start questioning all the offseason moves?

No, because the 49ers are right where a reasonable assumption would have put them.

Shanahan earned his merits last year with the Falcons, of course, but it's important to note the numbers Atlanta put up the previous season when he took over as offensive coordinator. In 2015, the Falcons finished with the 21st-ranked scoring offense (339 points) and had the 19th-best rushing attack (100.4 yards per game). Unlike Shanahan's situation in Atlanta, the 2017 49ers don't have the luxury of playing with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones. There's quite a drop off to Niners QB Brian Hoyer, wideout Pierre Garçon and Co.

A better comparison, offensively, would be with Shanahan's 2014 campaign with the Cleveland Browns -- a team lacking offensive talent much like that of the 2017 Niners. Cleveland's 299 points scored that year ranked 27th in the NFL, and neither the total yardage (5,193) nor either facet of the offense jumped off the table.

It's also worth pointing out San Francisco has faced two good defenses to start the season -- the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively. Even with would-be substantial upgrades to the Niners offense, putting up lofty numbers against either of those two teams would have been a tall order.

Instead, San Francisco is trying to maximize as much as it can from its top offensive playmaker, running back Carlos Hyde, who posted 124 rushing yards in Week 2. Considering Hoyer's less-than-desirable playmaking abilities so far, it makes sense for Shanahan to feature his best weapon when the ground game is working. The only issue is Hyde can't shoulder the entire offensive burden alone.


Deep down, did you honestly expect anything different?

It's important to note Shanahan's offense is one of the most complex in the NFL. Aside from the handful of players -- including Hoyer and Garçon -- who have worked under Shanahan before, the vast majority of players are still gaining familiarity with his scheme. And many of those with experience under Shanahan still need to jell with each other.

This will take time, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the 49ers offense not hitting a stride until midway through 2017.

A Vastly Improved Defense


While the Niners have plenty of offensive woes, it is comforting to see San Francisco's defense making huge strides from a year ago.

Simplifying the scheme has worked wonders for this group, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is quickly putting a solid stamp on what was the NFL's worst defense back in 2016.

Here's a stat for you -- the 49ers, on average, allowed over 406 yards per game last season and 5.9 yards per play. While two games in 2017 is a small sample size, San Francisco's current line sits at 299.5 yards and 4.2 yards in each respective category.


A simplified scheme has played a role, but much of it is due to the numerous investments the team has made the past few seasons, including some by former general manager Trent Baalke.

Baalke's best addition before his firing was, with little doubt, second-year defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Though two games, Buckner's Pro Football Focus rating is an astounding 88.4 -- highest among all Niners defenders and fifth among all interior defenders.

That's good. Really good.

And yet we shouldn't be too surprised. Buckner came on strong the latter half of last season, and it's common for second-year players to make big strides after their rookie seasons. Buckner is backing up that claim.

While not perfect, San Francisco's defense is right about where we should have thought it would be -- significantly better than 2016 and with some notable upgrades along the defensive front seven.

So, in all, the 2017 49ers are at a point we probably should have predicted two games into this season. The offense isn't clicking much, and the defense is significantly improved. And that's all fine, if you're of the understanding this rebuild is going to take time.
  • Written by:
    Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game and the Niners' flagship station, KNBR 680. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to his Twitter account.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


2 Comments

  • Dallas Niner Fan
    CJ Baby!!! CJ!!!
    Sep 20, 2017 at 1:07 PM
    0
  • mbniner
    After the game several of the players made comments to reporters. The basic theme was disappointment in not winning the game and a feeling that they could do it next time. They showed a confidence in the team and coaches. What a difference from the last few seasons! Then you could sense a feeling of acceptance of mediocrity and no confidence in their ability to improve. Just this alone gives me hope that we're on our way to success.
    Sep 18, 2017 at 2:21 PM
    2

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