Niners' offense establishing identity

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers are an effective running team even when their per-carry average lags. That was one lasting impression after watching their offense control the ball for nearly 40 minutes during a 24-14 victory over the Jets in Week 14.

The 49ers' first possession began with center Eric Heitmann putting Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins on his back. I can't recall seeing that happen in the three or four Jets games I've watched this season. Frank Gore gained only 2 yards on the play, but the 49ers proved early that they would match the Jets in terms of being physical.

I'll list a few observations after making available for download this expanded look at the 49ers' production across personnel groups, situations and formations:

  • The 49ers' ability to recover their own fumbles allowed them to stick with a game plan that featured more plays with three tight ends (seven) than with four wide receivers (five). Injuries at receiver might have played a role in some of that, but we're also seeing a less flamboyant approach since Mike Singletary became head coach.

  • The 49ers might be trusting Vernon Davis more as a route-runner. Shaun Hill threw the ball before Davis came out of his break on a 20-yard pass play in the second quarter. I thought this play represented a step forward for Davis.

  • The 49ers ran the ball eight times in their first 12 plays on first down. They ran the ball 17 times on 30 first-down plays overall (I did not analyze kneel-down plays late in the game). For the season, the 49ers have passed 54 percent of the time on first down.

  • The 49ers had 10 plays of at least 13 yards. All were passes. All but one were on second or third down, a departure from early-season form.

  • Tight end Sean Ryan is getting extensive playing time as a fullback. I still count him as a tight end for personnel-charting purposes, and the 49ers did throw to him.

  • The holding call against left tackle Joe Staley (negating a touchdown pass to Delanie Walker) seemed unfortunate for Staley. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman grabbed Staley by the collar and yanked him off-balance before Staley tried to recover by grabbing Coleman.

  • Receiver Dominique Zeigler is improving with experience. He looked quick, particularly on a 31-yard catch-and run.

  • Missing on Jonas Jennings in free agency is really hurting the 49ers. Adam Snyder gives great effort, but he's a converted guard. Adding a front-line right tackle would help this offense a great deal.

  • Heitmann decked Jenkins in the third quarter after Jenkins tried a club move. A well-timed assist from left guard David Baas helped Heitmann finish Jenkins.

  • Receiver Isaac Bruce appears rejuvenated. Getting improved play from the quarterback position always helps.

  • Hill definitely fits the "gamer" label. The pass he threw to Walker for the negated 38-yard touchdown was delivered perfectly.

I've also had a chance to look at the Cardinals' offense against the Rams. More on that as the afternoon progresses.