After two lackluster performances to start the season, the 49ers defied expectations against the Rams. They came into the game with no touchdowns on the season and went off for 39 points. They lost, but the way the offense played leaves hope for the rest of the season.
Kyle Shanahan coaxed Matt Ryan to an MVP performance as the offensive coordinator for the Falcons last season, and that’s one of the reasons the Niners hired him as their new head coach. But it took the Falcons offense a full season to settle into Shanahan’s wide zone scheme, despite the fact that Atlanta is stacked with talent that San Francisco was lacking on that side of the ball.
There will still be some growing pains for this 49ers offense. But based on the game against the Rams, it looks like there is some hope for improvement on offense, and earlier than expected.
Brian Hoyer bounced back from an early mistake
Hoyer threw a pick on the very first play of the game. But he rebounded to keep the game competitive and led a furious late-game comeback.
He threw for 332 yards, two touchdowns, and he added a nine-yard touchdown run. That single pick was his only turnover of the night, except for a Michael Brockers’ pick on a two-point conversion attempt that doesn’t land in Hoyer’s stat line. That’s more yards than Hoyer managed in the first two games of the season combined, and he did it despite taking four sacks and with some poorly timed drops by his receivers.
In the Niners’ first game this season against the Panthers, Hoyer was sacked on San Francisco’s second possession and fumbled the ball. Carolina recovered, and Hoyer’s performance did not. He added a pick in the third quarter, and the 49ers settled for a garbage time field goal as the team’s only points of the day in the 23-3 blowout.
It was all downhill for Hoyer after an early interception against the Seahawks in Week 2. The Seahawks didn’t get into the end zone until late in the fourth quarter, but Hoyer and the Niners settled for field goals, and they lost 12-9.
That wasn’t the case against the Rams. Not only did Hoyer bounce back from the early mistake, but he actually looked good. He connected on 7-of-9 deep passing attempts. In contrast, he completed zero passes over 15 yards in Weeks 1 and 2, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
Pierre Garcon helped. He played like exactly the No. 1 wideout the Niners need. He put up 142 yards and looked good doing it.
There was one area of the game where Hoyer particularly excelled against the Rams.
#49ers QB Brian Hoyer was 8-9, 152 yards, 2 TD and a perfect passer rating of 158.3 on play action throws last night.— Jeff Deeney (@PFF_Jeff) September 22, 2017
It’s not just a matter of Hoyer adapting to Shanahan’s scheme. Shanahan is learning to play to his quarterback’s strengths, too.
Carlos Hyde kept things going on the ground
Hyde left the game briefly in the first half to be evaluated for an injury, but it didn’t slow him down. His 84 yards were a huge factor in the Niners’ performance.
The run game was essentially missing in action against the Panthers. Hyde had just 45 yards on the ground in Carolina. But Hyde gave a preview of what he could do against the Seahawks, racking up 124 yards on 15 carries.
Hyde’s two touchdowns were the difference maker against the Rams. Both came on fourth downs. His second score of the night came with just over two minutes remaining and put the Niners in a position to either tie it with a two-point conversion (which failed), or try to recover an onside kick and drive to try to win — which they did, and fell just short.
What’s the Niners’ offensive outlook?
It’s on the upswing. The Niners made up for their lack of touchdowns in the first two games of the season with five against the Rams. This ended up being the highest-scoring Thursday night game in NFL history, and it was the most points the 49ers have scored in a single game since 2013.
The Niners were rolling after Hyde’s last touchdown and the subsequent onside kick, which San Francisco recovered. A questionable OPI call was all that stood between San Francisco and the potential of the team’s first victory this season. But despite the loss, they showed enough in that second half for fans to be optimistic.
It’s just one game, so it’s fair to take it with a grain of salt, especially compared to their performances in Weeks 1 and 2. But the 49ers won’t have to face top defenses like the Panthers and Seahawks each week.
Their next two games are against the Cardinals and the Colts. Both are currently ranked in the bottom third of the league for points allowed, like the Rams are. San Francisco also pulled the 39-point performance off on a short week after looking utterly inept over the first two games of the season. The Niners now have 10 full days to prepare for Week 4.
These next two games will be an opportunity for the 49ers to continue to settle into Shanahan’s scheme and maybe hit their stride, which could make a difference over the rest of the season.