In his first two starts of the season, quarterback Blaine Gabbert has been anything other than inspiring at the helm of the 49ers offense.
The former first-round pick has completed just 39-of-71 passing attempts, good for just 413 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Even more alarming than Gabbert’s measly 5.8 yards per catch is his percentage of completions, which currently ranks 31st in the NFL.
While Gabbert has shown the type of athleticism with his legs that head coach Chip Kelly values, his inability to reliably connect with his receivers in a system that thrives on momentum has been the primary issue with the 49ers stumbling offense.
But on Wednesday afternoon, Kelly — who has preached the importance of accuracy in his offense since landing in Santa Clara — said that statistics don’t necessarily tell the whole story when it comes to Gabbert’s performance:
“I think it’s not always the quarterback. And I try to say that not to take pressure off of Blaine, but just because that’s the case. We had one in the preseason game and he’s like, ‘Well, it was a bad pass to the running back.’ Well, the running back is supposed to run a flat route and the running back didn’t run a flat route. So, the quarterback looks like he’s very inaccurate on the throw, but it’s not the quarterback’s fault.”
“There’s a lot that’s involved in all of that and I think being good in the passing game on the offensive side of the ball takes all 11 guys. It doesn’t just take a quarterback that’s an accurate guy because if you can’t protect him he’s not going to be very active. Or, if your receivers and the quarterback aren’t on the same page, you’re not going to be very accurate.”
To Kelly’s credit, the 49ers in the midst of learning their third offensive system in as many years. Likewise, to say that the team is devoid of offensive playmakers in the passing game is a vast understatement.
Toss in just one starting wide receiver from last year, an offensive line that is still gaining chemistry after yet another mixup and consecutive matchups against stout defenses, and it would seem like fair reasoning for Gabbert’s struggles to move the ball.
But even when the stars aligned properly for Gabbert, he’s sure had some ugly misses.
It would be unfair to dissect each and every one of his 32 misses. After all, even the best quarterbacks misfire on occasion. But it doesn’t mean that there haven’t already been instances where Gabbert has cost his team with his less-than-suitable accuracy.
Some notables include a low throw to receiver Torrey Smith on a 4th and 1 that caused a turnover on downs against the Rams, a miss to Jeremy Kerley on a deep crossing route from that same game, and two deep misses to Smith and tight end Garrett Celek from Sunday’s loss to the Panthers.
There’s many other instances of Gabbert failing to hook up with his receivers on plays where they’d worked themselves open, but the above examples are ones that instantly stand out as plays that cost the 49ers immensely.
As a six-year veteran, it may be that we’ve seen Gabbert’s ceiling as a signal-caller in the NFL. But Kelly believed that his starter could continue to harness his accuracy as the team continues to build chemistry along the offensive unit.
“I don’t think it’s as easy as some people think it is. It’s the most difficult position to play because you’re trying to execute something while someone is trying to take your head off. It’s not as easy I think as people think, but I think it’s a huge part of being a very, very good quarterback are the ones with repetitive accuracy is what you talk about on a consistent basis. Not only just getting it to the receiver, but getting it to the receiver in a position where he can go make a play on the ball.”
Gabbert’s efforts to gain more consistency in the air won’t get any easier this week, as the team travels to the tough confines of Seattle to take on the Legion of Boom.
Seattle currently has the fourth-ranked pass defense in the NFL through two games.
Maybe temper your expectations on a Gabbert resurgence for another week. But there’s a popular backup quarterback waiting for his chance too.