The 49ers’ offense fell short of expectations in the first seven games of the season.
The 49ers head into their bye week with a middle-of-the-pack offense in just about any way you want to dissect it.
San Francisco rallied for three consecutive wins after back-to-back losses, but the first-team offense still has not scored a fourth-quarter touchdown.
An offensive line in flux has been, perhaps, the major issue. The power-running game with Frank Gore has not been a consistent part of the offense with right tackle Anthony Davis available for just 1½ games due to injuries.
Left tackle Joe Staley is the only lineman who has not missed significant time.
Some problems in protection, along with a couple of key veteran players who have struggled to get going in the passing game, have led to their inconsistencies in that phase of the game.
MVP: Colin Kaepernick. The quarterback has made some extraordinary plays in the team’s victories. While still battling some consistency problems of his own, Kaepernick is on pace for his most prolific season as a passer.
He is completing 63.8 percent of his passes. On some of his best plays, Kaepernick has demonstrated improvements in two key areas: He is finding receivers beyond his first read and he is demonstrating better touch on the underneath passes.
Kaepernick also continues to be a big threat as a runner with 260 yards on the ground.
Pleasant surprise: Stevie Johnson. It took him a while to develop a rapport with Kaepernick, and he is still often the wide receiver who gets the fourth-most playing time. But Johnson is extremely productive while playing about one-quarter of the team’s offensive snaps.
He has 25 catches for 315 yards and three touchdowns while emerging as Kaepernick’s most-utilized third-down target.
Disappointment: Michael Crabtree. Tight end Vernon Davis has not been effective, either, but that can be blamed on injuries that have limited his playing time. Crabtree might not be fully healthy, either, but he has played more than twice as much as Johnson and just barely has better numbers with 32 receptions for 322 yards and three touchdowns.
Crabtree is in his contract year, and he will need to kick his play up a couple of notches to land a big-money deal as a free agent.
Known for his hands, Crabtree has a team-worst five dropped passes, according to Pro Football Focus.
Best play: Lloyd’s double move. The 49ers were atrocious through the first 29½ minutes of their Monday night game against the St. Louis Rams. They needed a big play while losing 14-3 late in the second quarter. And on a third-and-6 from their own 20, they found it.
Brandon Lloyd made a stop-and-go move on Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins, and Kaepernick delivered a perfect strike down the left sideline that resulted in an 80-yard touchdown.
The 49ers rode that momentum into the second half for a 31-17 victory on the road.
Other strong contenders for this honor are Kaepernick’s remarkable across-the-field throw for a 55-yard touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles, and Kaepernick’s 11-yard touch pass while rolling left to Anquan Boldin against the Rams.
Worst play: Giveaways to Bears. The 49ers led 17-0 in their Week 2 game against the Chicago Bears. But four Kaepernick turnovers proved costly.
The big one came on the first play after the Bears cut the 49ers’ lead to 20-14 at the start of the fourth quarter. Kaepernick tried to hit Crabtree on a short out pattern but Bears rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller took away the outside, and that’s where Kaepernick threw it.
Crabtree had his hands on the ball. Fuller, in the process of trying to break up the pass, somehow made the interception and returned it to the 49ers’ 6-yard line.
Kaepernick's “inappropriate language” penalty moved it to the 3, where the Bears scored on the next play and never trailed again in a 28-20 victory to spoil the 49ers’ first game at Levi’s Stadium.
Outlook: Room for improvement. The 49ers have more balance than any time since the arrival of coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman. The 49ers’ inconsistency running the football has been understandable, considering the lack of continuity on the offensive line.
The passing game continues to be a work in progress. The challenge for the offensive staff is to find that balance of being a power-running team that can spread out a defense with three or four quality wideouts. as well as Vernon Davis.
Like the team’s defense, this should be an offense that continues to take shape as the season progresses.