The San Francisco 49ers, seen here in Week 1, lost their third-straight game on Sunday. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The San Francisco 49ers, seen here in Week 1, lost their third-straight game on Sunday. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Is there any magic in the 49ers’ Levi’s?

The San Francisco 49ers return home for their first game at Levi’s Stadium since the season opener.

Their road trip was not kind to them, as they lost to the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks by a combined score of 83-45. Whatever defensive efficacy they showed in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams has all but disappeared.

Against a Seattle offensive line that has struggled slowing just about everyone else, San Francisco allowed Russell Wilson plenty of time due to a 49ers front seven that has been lackluster since losing Ray-Ray Armstrong for the season. (According to Pro Football Focus, the Niners managed just two sacks, two QB hits and 10 hurries in the loss).

Meanwhile, Dallas comes to town with one of the best offensive lines in the league. The unit has allowed rookie quarterback Dak Prescott to produce despite throwing just one touchdown. The other rookie in the backfield, Ezekiel Elliott, has averaged just shy of 4 yards per carry.

“He can hurt you not only running the ball, and he’s outstanding at doing that, but he can be a pass receiver coming out of the backfield,” said Chip Kelly, detailing the challenges of slowing Elliott, who has five catches this season. “He’s tough and physical and can pick up in blitz situations. So, he’s not a guy that you have to take off the field.”

A young, dynamic running back in a conservative offense coming into Levi’s Stadium with expectations of pounding the 49ers sounds familiar — think: the Rams’ Todd Gurley.

So, what accounts for the difference in performance between those winning 49ers and what we’ve seen in the weeks following?

It could be the play of quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who followed his opening-game QBR of 91.1 (a first-rate performance) with 47.9 versus Carolina and 33.2 against Seattle. (QBR is a holistic system that grades quarterback performances on a scale of 100.)

The San Francisco offense hasn’t had more than four third-down conversions since that beatdown of the Rams. And if that trend continues, the calls for Gabbert to be replaced by backup Colin Kaepernick will only get louder.

Some of the reason why the 49ers have struggled so hard on third downs (16-for-44 on the season), is Gabbert’s aversion to taking risks, which manifests itself in throwing behind the line-to-gain time and time again. Making matters worse, he rarely completes those passes anyways. Gabbert connected one pass on six attempts in third-and-less-than-four against Seattle last week.

“There’s 11 guys on offense that have to work together for any play to work, much more on third down,” Gabbert said earlier this week. “Those are huge plays in the games and we know that. We just have to do a better job of executing there this coming week.”

Gabbert must hope that returning to the friendly confines of Levi’s Stadium will help him return to appearing like a serviceable quarterback. I’m not so sure it’ll be that simple.

PFF has the 49ers ranked as the worst offense in the NFL “by a wide margin,” and the Cowboys keep getting better as their young stars mature.

It’s time for Gabbert to step up and prove he deserves the job, because right now, the 49ers are being embarrassed. Whether that’s a product of being outclassed by the Panthers and Seahawks should be understood by the end of today’s game in Santa Clara.
Blaine GabbertChip KellyDak PrescottDallas Cowboysjacob c. palmerRay-Ray ArmstrongSan Francisco 49ers

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