The 49ers are having a tough time following their defense-first recipe for success from last season.
That's to be expected, considering how many ingredients are missing in 2020. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman (calf) hasn't played since Week 1. Defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas will miss the remainder of the season after sustaining torn ACLs in Week 2. Edge rusher Dee Ford has a back injury and no timetable to return. Nickel cornerback K'Waun Williams and linebacker Kwon Alexander aren't healthy, either.
But like the best chefs on "Chopped," the 49ers are going to have to make due with what they have in order to make a playoff push. In order to overcome their 2-3 start and get back in the hunt, NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms believes the offense must become the basis of the 49ers' identity.
"They've gotta be the driving force this year," Simms told NBC Sports Bay Area's Grant Liffmann earlier this week. "They're gonna have to be the ones to turn it around. We're seeing guys back. They're getting healthy. It's not totally perfect yet here. We need Jimmy [Garoppolo] to be healthy and hitting on all cylinders, but [with tight end George] Kittle], the receivers, the running backs ... let's see if they can start to apply the force onto opponents on a weekly basis and maybe change the game through the offensive side of the ball instead of vice versa, what we saw all last year with the defense kind of controlling the game."
Any team coached by Kyle Shanahan will at least somewhat rely on its offense, and the 49ers scored the second-most points per game in 2019 while their defense grabbed most of the headlines. The offense isn't clicking to the same degree this year.
The 49ers are averaging fewer yards per play in 2020 (5.7 compared to 6.0), scoring on a lower percentage of drives (40.7 percent vs. 44.3) and turning the ball over on a higher percentage of drives (13.0 percent vs. 12.0). High-scoring wins against the lowly New York Jets and New York Giants feel like true outliers at this point, and the 49ers have scored an average of just 19 points in their three losses this season.
Plenty of caveats can contextualize that average, including the 49ers' spate of injuries on offense at various points through the first five weeks of the season. But Shanahan now has close to a full complement of offensive weapons at his disposal, whereas the same can't be said of the defense. Because of that, Simms believes the 49ers could have to rethink their entire defensive approach.
"I am worried about the defense," Simms said. "No Dee Ford, no Nick Bosa. We're starting to realize the pass rush isn't nearly the same, and that might have to compromise Robert Saleh to have to do things he doesn't really want to do on [defense] to create pressure and do those type of things."
The 49ers enter a daunting stretch of their schedule Sunday when they host the Los Angeles Rams at Levi's Stadium. None of their next six opponents currently are below .500, and three games -- two against the Rams, one against the Seattle Seahawks -- are within the NFC West.
If the 49ers are going to make it through that stretch (relatively) unscathed, their formula for success will look different than 2019's, purely out of necessity.