It’s not a secret that the San Francisco 49ers are struggling on offense right now. The unit is boring, predictable, and seems completely incapable of generating any big plays. Granted, the roster is severely lacking in terms of skill players, but that’s not a reason to play in a box, refusing to take any shots down the field. You have to make the most of what you have, and at least make an attempt to keep defenses honest. So why does HC Chip Kelly, a supposed offensive guru, refuse to open up the attack? One reason could be because he has no faith in the guy behind center, QB Blaine Gabbert.
Kelly’s offense has given new meaning to the term “conservative,” especially through the air. In turn, the 49ers are last in the NFL in yards per offensive play (4.4), yards per pass attempt (5.5), and yards per drive (20.9). While Gabbert and Kelly certainly share the blame for this, the play calling definitely gives the impression that Kelly doesn’t trust his QB. Consider that even though San Francisco was down 37-3 at one point in Week 3, they still only threw the ball 25 times and actually had more rushing attempts (31) than passes.
— Al Sacco (@AlSacco49) September 26, 2016
When you look at Gabbert’s performance, I guess it’s not hard to see where Kelly’s coming from. On throws of 10-plus yards down the field, Gabbert has a 38.2 completion percentage and a rating of 63.1. Overall, he’s been inaccurate (55.2 completion percentage) and his total of three interceptions could actually be much worse. Even in the 49ers 28-0 domination of the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1, Gabbert was lucky he wasn’t picked off multiple times, a couple of which may have given the Rams easy scores to get them back in the game.
Given how ugly things have been, the real question here is why would Kelly stick with Gabbert if he feels he can’t run his entire offense through him? Why wouldn’t he just insert QB Colin Kaepernick in an effort to jump start things? He certainly can’t do much worse. I believe the answer to that question is simply Kelly doesn’t believe Kaepernick is ready yet. When his is, he’s starting. If you read between the lines, Kelly’s made this as clear as day in his recent comments.
“Kap is our No. 2 right now and everybody wants to know why Kap isn’t our No. 1. I don’t think Kap is 100 percent right now,” Kelly said to the media at his press conference.
“I don’t think he’s ready to go full-time,” Kelly said. “He’s continuing to work on it. I think he’s over there right now. And, Kap will be the first to tell you, if you guys have been around here before, I think his playing weight has been around 225 and he’s not at that right now.
“So he’s going out there and continuing to work, continuing to get better. He had a serious layoff in times in terms of being able to medical rehab. To get the full Kap for what you need, the potential that he has, he needs to continue to just work on the physical aspect of things.”
So basically, Kelly’s just biding his time, waiting for Kaepernick is be completely healthy. He knows he’s playing with the house’s money this year, and no matter how poorly the team does he’ll get multiple years to turn it around. He’s approaching the whole thing like a coach who knows he’ll be here for the long haul, but his general manager probably won’t. The 49ers aren’t a playoff team, not even close, so Kelly will take his time and make sure when Kaepernick does play, he’s 100 percent ready.
The ideal spot to make the change would be after Week 5’s Thursday night game against the Arizona Cardinals. Even though they’ve struggled recently, the Cardinals are still a playoff caliber team, and we’ve seen how the Niners do against that type of competition. Barring a major upset here, the team will be 1-5 or 2-4, and a change would most likely be warranted. It would also give Kaepernick 10 days to prepare for the next game which is in Buffalo against the Bills.
Now I don’t know if Kaepernick is the answer, he certainly hasn’t been the past couple of years, but I strongly believe Kelly can’t wait to see if he can revive the maligned quarterback. Kaepernick has a tantalizing skill set, and it’s difficult for coaches to look past that. The writing is on the wall. Kaepernick is going to get one last shot in San Francisco…eventually.