Through the first seven games of the season, the 49ers have won the battle of the passing games.
Colin Kaepernick completed 63.8 percent of his attempts, while the 49ers’ defense limited the opposing quarterback to a 58.7 rate. Kaepernick averaged 7.6 yards per pass attempt. The opposition averaged 6.6 yards. Kaepernick’s passer rating is 94.3, while the 49ers’ defense allowed an 84.0 passer rating.
That should bode well for the second half of the season. For the first time since coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman arrived with the 49ers, the offense is equipped to feature a power-running game, as well as a more pass-oriented attack.
But, still, there are plenty of questions about the state of the passing game. Here’s our latest edition of 49ers Mailbag:
Is Greg Roman going to settle on an offensive identity, or will the Niners just wander around aimlessly trying to be something new week-to-week? (Antony Jones)
Why are the Niners running so many 5-wide sets? It seems completely against the offensive identity. (Stephen Burke)
The week-to-week strength of the team has dictated what Roman has decided to do with the game-planning and play-calling.
For instance, when Anthony Davis, Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald were not available, the 49ers featured a spread attack against the Arizona Cardinals. The losses of the Davises, as well as left guard Mike Iupati, has forced the 49ers to make alterations at other points this season, too.
In seven games, the 49ers used five receivers for only 14 snaps. The 49ers were successful when using a five-receiver set that included Bruce Ellington, Stevie Johnson, Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Brandon Lloyd. They averaged 8.07 yards on those 14 plays, including six first downs.
But the 49ers will not use five-receiver sets as long as Vernon Davis is available. Despite his unimpressive start to the season, Davis is still considered one of the team’s top offensive weapons.
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The 49ers’ offense is in a pretty good position entering the second half of the season. They should be able to run the ball with an offensive line that figures to be as close to full strength as possible next week against the St. Louis Rams. (Of course, there is one major change with rookie Marcus Martin taking over for Daniel Kilgore.)
The passing game should be in good position, too, if Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree start producing the kind of numbers expected of them when the season began.
Good teams have the ability to run the ball when they need to do that, and throw the ball when the time calls for it. For the first time, the 49ers should have that kind of versatility. Fans of the 49ers should consider that a good thing.
How do the 49ers compensate for the depleted secondary? What players coming back from injury or suspension will have the biggest affect on the team? (Ehab Elsobky)
The return of Aldon Smith (the NFL has yet to announce whether his suspension will be reduced) should have a major impact on the secondary. But the secondary should not be as depleted in the second half of the season as it was for that game against the Denver Broncos.
The 49ers’ defense has been outstanding through seven games. And the pass defense was very strong in the first six games before getting ripped to shreds against the Broncos. Tramaine Brock was forced into an every-down role when, in a perfect world, he would’ve played about a dozen snaps against Denver. He had not played since Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys, and it showed. But with Chris Culliver out, the 49ers did not have the luxury of easing Brock back into the action upon his return from "turf toe."
In the second half of the season, Brock should be able to knock off the rust. Culliver and nickel back Jimmie Ward should be back soon from their injuries. But with Aldon Smith coming back, the 49ers will be adding one of the NFL's elite pass-rushers to a defense that ranked No. 2 in the NFL without him.