Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but what in the wide wide world of sports is going on here? Does anyone really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? Has the time come today (ooooh another cool somg to post. 60’s funk!)? Is it 25 or 6 to 4? Is this the end, beautiful friend?
What I’m referring to of course is the 49ers offense and it’s recent lack of ability to get over the hump and into the promised land. One can safely say that the Niners could have been Super Bowl winners these past 3 years with a couple of non-turnovers, and some better play clock management. And I ain’t going to rehash those plays.
What I want to address is, what is this team going to DO about the issues that keep dogging this team? To me, the big issues are:
- Play clock management
- The red zone offense
- The passing game
Since the Nolan era came to be, the Niners used a play calling system that was basically this. 2 plays are given to the QB. A run play and a pass play. A primary and a backup. If the primary play is to be run, the call is roll roll. If they are to go with the backup, you hear kill kill kill. These are strictly pre-snap reads. Problem is, in a loud stadium, it’s hard to get one play in from the press box to the field, and then to the QB, let alone 2 plays. This often leads to the play clock running dangerously close to running out on about 75% of the plays during a game. This even happens at home. Like the 2nd and goal in the Super Bowl. Shit, I didn’t want to do that. This nagging problem has transcended 3 coaching staffs and myriad players, coaches, OCs, QBs, and HCs.
The red zone offense? Well, the Niners were 15th in red zone scoring percentage at 53%. Certainly not terrible, but waaay behind successful teams like Denver and Cincy at 72%. Fat lot of good it did them, but for a team like the Niners, scoring at a brisker clip would put a lot less pressure on the offense. Kicking FGs and leaving so many games in the balance at the very end leaves one susceptible to late killer turnovers.
The passing game? Well, far be it from me to complain, but Jesus Christ, let’s get out of the stone age. 1-2 WR sets are a thing of the distant past. Inviting teams to pack the box against the run does little to help the run game OR the passing game. If you run-blitz on a pass play, you instantly have at least 2 guys unblocked in the backfield. Brilliant when you are trying to disguise a pass play. If you run blitz on a run, you more than likely stop that play as well. Inviting teams to play everyone up close to the line of scrimmage should open up the deep passing game, but for some reason, the Niners rarely ever pull that trigger. Whether through lack of talent, feare of turnovers, or lack of throwing time, they just don;t so it near enough to keep defenses honest.
The prevailing sentiment is, why mess with success? Gore has put up big numbers. They win games at a steady clip. 36-11-1 (and a 5-3 playoff record) in 3 years is no mean feat. But, success measured how? Yes, we came out of the dark ages with the hire of Jim Harbaugh, but all we have gotten is tantalizingly close to the trophy. So, while reaching the NFC Championship 3 years in a row is a great thing, falling short 3 years in a row isn’t.
So, what now? The defense isn’t going to be better than it was last year with the loss of Donte Whitner and the Navorro Bowman injury, among the loss of Terell Brown, and the possible suspensions of Aldon Smith and Chris Culliver. So that leaves the offense to pick up the slack. Use more formations that spread the field out. Use 3-4 WRs from time to time. THere’s no need to go Mouse Davis here, but certainly they can stop using multiple WR formations on more than just 3rd down. For too long we’ve dictated exactly how to stop our offense. Against teams like Tennessee and Houston, we can impose our will on them. Other times, not so much.
The (somewhat) good news is that Jim Harbaugh has specifically pointed to these very things as issues they need to work on this year. Even in the OTAs, Kappy was working on plays into the end zone (GASP!) from the red zone. Something I hope they actually do. He also talked of scrapping the 2-plays-in-the-huddle deal and giving more control to Kappy at the line to determine the play to run. Harbaugh even went so far as to talk about using more 3 WR sets on OTHER than 3rd down.
Yay! Let’s hope it ain’t simply lip service.
Truth of the matter is, I think this talk of opening things up is directly related to the fact that they HAVE fallen short in these 3 seasons, and that Harbaugh wants to cash in. Without a Super Bowl This year (my definition of success), then they will be hard-pressed to throw the money at him that he wants.