Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports


A Second Big Dog on the Porch: The 49ers Offense Steps Out of the Shadows

Don Atkinson
Oct 29, 2019 at 8:27 PM0


Being the 49ers offense must be a little like being an older sister to a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. You may be gorgeous, too, but you're never going to get the same level of attention as your sibling.

Last Sunday, the 49ers offensive unit took a bold step toward letting the rest of the world know that it was rather special as well, racking up a whopping 51 points against what is widely regarded as one of the tougher defenses in the NFC.

The 49ers offense has scored 207 points over the first seven games of the season. Toss out the 9-0 score in the underwater game they played in Washington two weeks ago, and the team has averaged an impressive 33 points per game. Not bad for an offensive unit that has largely taken a back seat to the 49ers defensive unit since the season began.

It's not surprising, of course, that the 49ers defense would get most of the attention given to the team. It leads the NFC, if not the league, in most defensive categories, and has limited opposing teams to a measly 11 points per game on average, including three games in which opponents have been held to 7 points or fewer.

The defensive front is so dominating, in fact, that the 49ers have all but abandoned the need to blitz the quarterback during games. That's almost unheard of, and it's allowed the 49ers' linebackers and safeties to concentrate on pass coverage, which is why no teams seem to have any real success throwing against the 49ers secondary.

Here is the truly remarkable thing about the 49ers' most recent win: the team they pounded into early submission is one of the NFC's better squads. Granted the Carolina Panthers were without the game-breaking skills of side-lined quarterback Cam Newton. But they still had won four straight games with Kyle Allen, a capable young quarterback who had yet to throw an interception. Carolina also possesses one of the best running backs in the league in Christian McCaffrey.

Combined with a stout defense, the Panthers going into last Sunday's matchup looked like they very well might be joining the post-season party.

Then the 49ers happened.

That's a familiar story these days --- one told now by seven teams and counting. The 49ers have been intriguing to the media and a joy to watch for their fan base. For the rest of the NFL, they have become a total downer --- the ultimate buzzkill.

Teams stride into games against the 49ers with their hopes and dreams alive and leave with a bad hangover and an ugly "L" to put in their closets. It's not the kind of thing that sits well with everyone else vying for a spot in the playoffs, but this is becoming the common thread in the NFL now. There's how your team performs, and then there's how it performs against the 49ers. And those are usually very different animals.

While the 49ers defense has worn down the critics, the offense has not. Dismissal of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's efficiency continues, and members of the "who have they played?" crowd still wearily beat their drums, though the idea is now bordering on the ridiculous. Giving the 49ers credit for what they've accomplished on the heels of a 4-12 season seems to be more painful to some than a root canal without anesthesia.

After Sunday's game, Panthers linebacker Bruce Irvin said the 49ers were "just okay; not world beaters." Those are tall words for a linebacker whose team had just finished up doing a three-hour impression of a birthday pinata.

Irvin's comments should probably be excused, since he was almost certainly still feeling the sting of humiliation that comes from being part of a highly regarded defense that was just force-fed 51 points. He also played some time as a Seattle Seahawk, so there's that. NFL rivalry, especially between the NFC West teams, is a powerful thing.

Scoring 51 points in the NFL is an exceptional thing. Doing that against what is purported to be one of the better defenses in the conference is even more remarkable.

The 49ers are devastating with the run. And though it hasn't showed much yet, the potential is there to be equally impressive through the air. There are pieces still settling into the puzzle for the 49ers and adding Emmanuel Sanders last week was almost certainly a move in the right direction. I suspect there are still more improvements to come.

There's more to take home from this last win than can be carried in a single armload. But there are two things that we can say with absolute certainty at this point:

Firstly, the 49ers have an offense that can take down teams all by itself. It's a great comfort to know your defense is not going to allow your opponents to get much more than ten points in a game. But knowing you can consistently rack up 31, 41 or even 51 on your side of the ball is huge.

Secondly, the 49ers will continue to become more imposing as time moves along. These players, both offensive and defensive, inspire one another, challenge one another, and have created a sense of confidence in themselves as a team that, like concrete, gets more impossible to break with time.

As a team, the 49ers scheme well and execute well. They play with ferocity and fearlessness, but they don't lose their focus. When things go wrong, they adapt and adjust. And then they win their game and move along to the next one. This is what elite teams do, and that's where the 49ers are at this moment.

At eight weeks in, the 49ers are playing championship-level football. Other teams can acknowledge that or not, but it doesn't change the circumstances.

Irvin's dense remarks can be tossed into the dumpster along with those of others who resent that the 49ers, after years of scratching to eke out wins every season, are now knocking teams flat out. Other than cornerback Richard Sherman, I may be the only one who remembers them four weeks from now anyway.

There's more to be said by the 49ers as the second half of the schedule approaches. And it's looking more and more like it won't just be the Niner's defense doing the talking. Those who dismiss, underestimate or downplay that idea clearly do so at their own peril.
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.


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