More of this, please.
As I watched the 49ers rout their opponent for the second week in a row, a particular quote popped into my head. The late great Dennis Green once famously said, “THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE.” And while the context wasn’t identical, I feel like the same can be said about a 49ers offense that has scored 30 or more in back-to-back weeks after a turbulent start to the season.
The potential has been there all year, but as a unit, the offense is finally starting to fire on all cylinders, avoiding the costly penalties and turnovers that have plagued them for the majority of this season. The 49ers followed up their impressive opening drive against the Rams (18 plays, 93 yards) with another extremely methodical scoring drive in their first possession in Jacksonville. The 20 play, 87-yard drive took 13 minutes and five seconds off of the game clock, the longest drive (based on time) by any team in the NFL since 2001.
The 49ers’ commitment to the run game has been the much-needed spark that has propelled this offense to back-to-back dominating performances. They have run the ball over 86 times over the last two games at a clip of 4.7 yards per carry, demoralizing opposing defenses with a heavy dose of their rushing attack.
The 40+ rushing attempts in each of the last two games have also led to the 49ers absolutely obliterating their opponents in the time of possession battle, holding the ball for nearly double the amount of time that the Rams and Jaguars did (77:25 to 42:75).
Over the last two contests, the 49ers have been extremely balanced, posting eerily similar yardage totals on the ground and in the air over that span
Against the Rams:
179 passing yards
156 rushing yards
Against the Jaguars
162 passing yards
171 rushing yards
This is the kind of football this offense was constructed to play, and after finally getting out of their own way by steering clear of the boneheaded self-inflicted mistakes they’ve been prone to all tear, they are appearing to function like the well-oiled machine they have always had the potential to be given the talent on the roster.
In addition to the strides they have made in the ground game, the execution on third down has taken a significant step forward as well, as the 49ers have gone 14-26 on the money down during their two-game win streak. That clip (53.8%) is a massive improvement for a team that has spent the majority of the season ranked in the bottom third of 3rd down conversion rate. (For reference, the Kansas City Chiefs entered week 11 ranked #1 in the league with a 53.3% conversion rate).
While I firmly believe the run game and third-down efficiency have been the driving force behind this offensive explosion, the receiving group deserves a large share of the credit as well. After spending the majority of the year riding a historic start from Deebo Samuel, the passing game has been a bit more balanced with its target share over the last couple of weeks, including a breakout performance from second-year wideout Brandon Aiyuk.
Aiyuk led the 49ers’ offense with seven targets against the Jaguars and finished with a team-leading seven catches for 85 yards and a touchdown. Among those seven receptions were a couple of crucial third-down conversions, one that moved the sticks on 3rd & 12 on the 49ers opening drive, and another that resulted in the 49ers second touchdown of the game on 3rd & goal from the 6-yard line.
It appears Jimmy Garoppolo and Aiyuk are starting to click and build upon the chemistry that didn’t appear to be there amidst Aiyuk’s rather odd lack of usage in the early portion of the season. Aiyuk has always had the physical ability to be a game-changing talent at the receiver position, and it is beyond encouraging to see him be a focal point of the offense again as the team gears up for the backstretch of the season with its eyes on a playoff birth.
One other area I have to highlight quickly is George Kittle’s production in the red zone in recent weeks has been synonymous with the 49ers’ offensive resurgence. Entering this season, Kittle had never recorded a touchdown in consecutive weeks.
After the Jacksonville game that saw Kittle on the receiving end of a pass on 4th & goal, the all-pro tight end has now scored a touchdown in three consecutive games. Kittle’s recent emergence as a red-zone weapon is an added bonus to a unit that is already comfortably leading the league in red-zone conversion percentage at 77.7%.
All in all, this 49ers offense is humming at just the right time, as they now find themselves back at .500 with a chance to firmly place themselves in the driver’s seat for one of the NFC playoff spots that are up for grabs when they take on the Minnesota Vikings this weekend in Santa Clara.