San Francisco 49ers: Former Head Coach Chip Kelly Deserves Some Credit for 2016 Efforts

The San Francisco 49ers were a bad team in 2016. But now-fired head coach Chip Kelly deserves some credit for making something out of an otherwise useless roster.

Nov 27, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly looks on during the second half against San Francisco 49ers at Hard Rock Stadium. The Dolphins won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 27, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly looks on during the second half against San Francisco 49ers at Hard Rock Stadium. The Dolphins won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

No matter how one tries to spin it, the San Francisco 49ers were nothing short of awful in 2016.

And a 2-14 points directly at what took place in Santa Clara over the course of last year.

While head coach Chip Kelly’s second attempt at being an NFL head coach failed miserably, he does deserve a good deal of credit for making something worthy of respect out of a completely failed product.

To use ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer’s (h/t Kevin Jones of KNBR) grocery store analogy, Kelly’s meal wasn’t totally rancid despite rotten ingredients.

To be frank, Kelly isn’t blameless here. His offenses, still relatively simple, had to be slowed down from his traditional uptempo look. Even still, the Niners defense was on the field more than any other NFL group.

An average of 68.9 plays per game, according to TeamRankings.com.

And all the while, San Francisco’s offense still ranked dead last in the passing game (2,911 yards) and next to last in all-purpose yards (4,930).

But what about the things Kelly did well?

Let’s tout those in one final acknowledgement of Kelly’s time in San Francisco.

Oct 23, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Shaun Draughn (24) celebrates ahead of wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (17) after scoring a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 23, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Shaun Draughn (24) celebrates ahead of wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (17) after scoring a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Revamping the Red-Zone Offense

For years, even under former head coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers’ red-zone offense was consistently one of the worst in the NFL.

Don’t believe us? Just take a look at these numbers from TeamRankings.com:

  • 2011 — 40.68 percent (30th)
  • 2012 — 54.69 percent (15th)
  • 2013 — 53.06 percent (15th)
  • 2014 — 43.18 percent (29th)
  • 2015 — 43.59 percent (31st)
  • 2016 — 68.18 percent (second)

Yeah, that’s a drastic difference.

True, Chip Kelly’s 49ers didn’t get into the red zone often — they had the 27th-ranked scoring offense in the league — but when they did, the offense made the trip count.

Fifteen of the 19 total passing touchdowns came within the red zone, which might not seem that important. But consider this — Niners quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick combined for a 107.6 passer rating when inside opponents’ 20-yard lines.

That’s impressive by any standards.

Speaking of Kaepernick…

November 6, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly (left) talks to quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) during the third quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Levi's Stadium. The Saints defeated the 49ers 41-23. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

November 6, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly (left) talks to quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) during the third quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Levi’s Stadium. The Saints defeated the 49ers 41-23. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Chip Kelly’s Work with Colin Kaepernick

Let’s start by saying it’s probably best the 49ers move on from quarterback Colin Kaepernick this offseason.

And fans will never know if Chip Kelly could have been the quarterback “whisperer” to get Kap’s career back on track. Yet for the brief amount of time we saw the two work together, it’s safe to say the embattled quarterback looked much better than anything seen since 2013.

Take a look at Kaepernick’s passing numbers from 2016 compared to previous seasons:

Passing Table
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS QBrec Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Int% Lng Y/A Y/C Rate Sk
2011 24 SFO 7 3 0 3 5 60.0 35 0 0 0.0 19 7.0 11.7 81.2 0
2012 25 SFO qb 7 13 7 5-2-0 136 218 62.4 1814 10 3 1.4 57 8.3 13.3 98.3 16
2013 26 SFO QB 7 16 16 12-4-0 243 416 58.4 3197 21 8 1.9 64 7.7 13.2 91.6 39
2014 27 SFO QB 7 16 16 8-8-0 289 478 60.5 3369 19 10 2.1 80 7.0 11.7 86.4 52
2015 28 SFO QB 7 9 8 2-6-0 144 244 59.0 1615 6 5 2.0 76 6.6 11.2 78.5 28
2016 29 SFO QB 7 12 11 1-10-0 196 331 59.2 2241 16 4 1.2 65 6.8 11.4 90.7 36
Career 69 58 28-30-0 1011 1692 59.8 12271 72 30 1.8 80 7.3 12.1 88.9 171
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/17/2017.

One number should stand out — his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 16 to four. And his overall passer rating (90.7) was the highest it had been since the 2013 season.

True, Kap had some major second-half woes in games. But it’s pretty obvious he performed much better under Kelly’s tutelage than the 2015 tandem of offensive coordinator Geep Chryst and quarterbacks coach Steve Logan.

49ers Hyde

December 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (28) runs the football against New York Jets cornerback Juston Burris (32) and outside linebacker Darron Lee (50) during the second quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Running Game

For all the woes San Francisco went through on both sides of the ball, the Niners did enjoy a top-five year on the ground.

On offense, that is.

Yes, the 49ers finished with the NFL’s fourth-best rushing attack — a total of 2,019 yards on the ground.

True, part of this has to be attributed to the lack of weapons in the passing game. San Francisco wasn’t build to be a pass-happy offense, but at least Chip Kelly tried to maximize whatever strengths the Niners had.

And that strength included running back Carlos Hyde.

Hyde nearly reached 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career, only to fall 12 short after suffering a season-ending MCL sprain in Week 16. The 2014 second-round pick also led San Francisco in touchdowns (six) and remains a focal point for the 49ers offense moving forward.

In comparison, a similarly bad roster last year finished with 1,544 rushing yards — 21st in the NFL during the 2015 season.

Nov 6, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly before the game against the New Orleans Saints at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 6, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly before the game against the New Orleans Saints at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Chip Kelly Didn’t Let the 49ers Dissolve into Chaos

The NFL is a wins-and-losses league. Nothing else matters.

Well, not exactly.

While the 49ers finished with the second-worst record in 2016 and where largely blown out of games early and often, Chip Kelly never lost track of his team. Just read the reports, especially like those from veteran left tackle Joe Staley.

“He’s done a great job of keeping us together,” Staley said of Kelly, via CSN Bay Area, at the end of the season.

In contrast, just take a look at what the New York Jets were going through at the tail end of 2016 when their season came crashing down. They all but quit on head coach Todd Bowles, and it showed.

Maybe Kelly was a little too player friendly in 2016 — an attempt, perhaps, to redress some of the controversies he endured with the Philadelphia Eagles over the previous three seasons.

We may never know. But it would have been easy for the Niners to give up on Kelly when things started to go sour. And that happened very early in the year.

They didn’t though. That’s a credit to Kelly.

Even if the rest of the year was in the tank.

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