There hasn’t been much to like about the San Francisco 49ers’ offense during a 1-2 start to the 2022 NFL regular season. While the defense is the stingiest unit in the league through three games, creativity and points have deserted head coach Kyle Shanahan’s usually proficient offense.
Injuries haven’t helped, but most of the problems concern a revamped offensive line that hasn’t lived up to its billing. Specifically, new starters along the interior have struggled to hold up in both phases against defenses, often leading to key mistakes.
A “journeyman” starter is taking most of the heat for the frailties in the engine room of San Francisco’s offense. This starter is somebody Shanahan should bench immediately ahead of Week 4, according to one NFL writer.
Changes Already Needed at Key Position
Jake Brendel only won the starting job at center this offseason, but Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine already thinks it’s time for a change: “The 30-year-old was overmatched against D.J. Jones, and his performance helped contribute to his 50.7 grade from PFF, which ranks 31st out of 37 centers. He has yet to give up a sack but has already drawn two penalties.”
It should be an easy choice for Shanahan, according to Ballentine, because the 49ers can simply call upon Daniel Brunskill to fill the void. Brunskill has played everywhere across the Niners’ O-line and started all 17 games last season.
Brendel has not helped his case by committing some costly errors, including a botched snap during the 11-10 defeat to the Broncos in Week 3. As Jack Hammer of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat pointed out, Shanahan put the responsibility for the turnover squarely on Brendel’s shoulders, instead of those of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo:
In fairness to Brundel, his struggles are merely one part of a broader problem facing the 49ers and offensive line coach Chris Foerster. Replacing retired center Alex Mack and guard Laken Tomlinson, who joined the New York Jets in free agency, was never going to be easy.
Ideally, Shanahan could simply replace Brendel in the lineup and solve all the problems. Unfortunately, the Niners now have issues at the edges of the line, issues that may be more serious than those along the interior.
Trent Williams Injury Devastating for Already Shaky Line
There’s never a good time to lose an All-Pro player to injury, but Trent Williams’ absence will only compound the struggles already facing this line. The most physically dominant left tackle in the game suffered a high ankle sprain against the Broncos, and while Williams doesn’t need surgery, the 49ers can ill afford to be without his talents for long.
As Brad of TheSFNiners highlighted, Williams can do things most other linemen can’t manage:
It’s difficult to believe Colton McKivitz will make the same impact as Williams at the key spot in the trenches. The inevitable drop in performance levels will mean more trouble for an offense stuttering and sputtering to come to life this season.
Shanahan’s offense depends on zone-stretch running and bootleg passes. Both of those things demand versatile, mobile linemen who can move quickly to the second level and thrive in space.
The 49ers simply don’t have the athletes up front to make their system work. Timing is also not on Shanahan’s side, with the Los Angeles Rams next up on the schedule.
A defensive line underpinned by Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd will expect to feast on a depleted offensive front on Monday Night Football. Shanahan will need to adjust his familiar play designs and sets to give his reshuffled line some help.