One of the common misconceptions during most of the Jim Harbaugh era was that the San Francisco 49ers had one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. The truth of the matter is that while the team did boast one of the top run blocking units in the league, their pass protection left something to be desired.
The 49ers consistently ranked near the bottom in sack percentage every season with Harbaugh at the helm. In 2011, the offensive line allowed a sack on 8.9 percent of the quarterback’s total drop backs, which was sixth worst overall. They were third worst in 2012 (8.6 percent), fourth worst in 2013 (8.6 percent), and third worst in 2014 (9.6 percent).
The results of 2014 looks especially bad, when you consider the Niners attempted the fourth fewest passes in the NFL (487), but allowed the third most sacks (52). By comparison, the Houston Texans were credited with 485 passes attempts, and allowed 26 less sacks (obviously sacks don’t count as attempted passes, but you get the point). While injuries played a big part of the poor showing last season, the line was relatively healthy in the years prior.
In fairness to the offensive line though, some of the blame for these sacks can be placed on the quarterback too. There were often times where QB Alex Smith‘s tendency to hold onto the ball or QB Colin Kaepernick’s lack of pocket awareness caused the sack, despite the blocking being good enough.
Regardless of who the blame fell to, those negative plays are a large reason why the 49ers’ offense never quite found it’s groove under Harbaugh. There were moments (in 2012 especially) when it looked like the unit could be ready to take off, but ultimately they reverted back to struggling to score touchdowns, and settling for far too many field goals. From 2011-14, the 49ers finished 19th, 10th, 14th and 30th respectively in total offensive touchdowns.
Another issue that had plagued the San Francisco offense under Harbugh was the amount of delay of game penalties they’ve been called for.
The 49ers played in 72 games (including the playoffs) with Harbaugh as their head coach. They were called for delay of game 42 times during that stretch, which was by far the most of any franchise. The league average per year was about 4.39 per team, and the Niners more than doubled that by averaging 10.5 calls per season.
That stat doesn’t even take into account the amount of timeouts that were wasted to prevent a delay of game being called, none bigger than the one that may have erased a game winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLVII.
Scheme and communication have a lot to do with improving the above mentioned issues, and it will be interesting to see if the new coaching staff can get these problems cleaned up. If they fail to do so, it could be another frustrating year offensively in San Francisco.