In Defense of the Jim Harbaugh / Greg Roman Play Calling

Harbaugh moves in for the unconventional "coach-to-ref" butt tap.

Alex Smith is pretty cute - I mean he's got a sort of Ryan Gosling look, I suppose. I guess Michael Crabtree can be considered pretty cute. I wouldn't say that Frank Gore is necessarily cute, but perhaps somebody out there thinks he's cute. Vernon Davis has a, uh, je ne sais quoi, but -

Oh, you mean we aren't talking about the relative aesthetic merits of each 49ers player on the offense? Well excuuuuse me, Princess. I thought that all the criticisms of the Niners' offense being too "cute" this week was about their nice firm buttocks or something.

I mean, come on: this is the heralded Harbaugh / Roman offense about which we are talking. Jim Harbaugh, guys! The big tuna! The pot of gold at the end of the tunnel! The second coming of Bill Walsh! This is the man who caused Matt Maiocco to faint when he was first introduced to the media; I heard a rumor that Tim Kawakami had not even one mean-spirited complaint come to mind when he first met Harbaugh.

Now, by no means is Harbaugh / Roman above reproach (and for the record, I am going to just refer to this offense as the Harbaugh offense from here on out - primarily because I believe it is. Just know that I do so with the acknowledgement that I mean the "Harbaugh / Roman offense.). By no means should we not criticize them. I even did it after the 49ers - Cowboy game, and if Harbaugh made the same decision now as he did then, I would complain yet again.

But the fact of the matter is that I think Harbaugh et al. has earned some street cred here in the beloved alleyways of Niners Nation. They have taken an offense helmed by the oh so prolific Alex Smith and turned it into the eighth highest scoring team in the NFL at 25.8 points per game. That's .2 behind the evil Harbaugh brother in Baltimore. Raise your hand if you thought before the season started that we were going to be in the top third of the league in terms of points scored. Now put them down, dirty liars.

So when I say that we may be quick to criticize Harbaugh's play calling, it's not me actually typing. It's the stats. No, seriously. I'm writing the under duress. The stats have my family and won't let me stop! And as I have learned, you can't fight statistical analysis.

But to get a little bit more specific, let's talk about the recent game with the Redskins. I thought they play calling was quite good, and I loved the fact that Harbaugh wants to move away from the more "run it down the throat" style of play.

First off, our medical miracle running back can only stay healthy for however long before he needs Asclepius to come along and perform another medical miracle. I don't want Frank to be the tank, but rather a running back. He is totally capable of being the bell cow. He clearly has the talent. But, the longer we keep his legs fresh, the longer he can go this year. There is no need for him to get grinding carries now if that is going to slow him down in the playoffs. Season's long, we can't forget the toll that has on players.

Secondly, the cute stuff is frequently brilliant. The horrid penalty on 4th down notwithstanding, I thought that the reset to try and draw the defense off sides is quite smart and unique.

Moreover, I don't care if the play ends with Gore running up the middle, any time we can favorably shift formations before the snap, we should. These little things confuse defenses. It is so hard trying to keep up with an offense that refuses to be static. There's a reason that some teams run perpetual no huddles - they are trying to force the defense into playing catch-up. Shifting formations? That's just another way of dictating the pace of the game.

Finally, I saw some criticism in running a reverse against a blitz. I think people are right in that blitzes are hard to run reverses against. When somebody gets around that blitz, though (typically if the blitz has outside linebackers crash in), it can break for serious yards. More importantly, however, that is just one more play for which the NY Giants now have to prepare. These little things add up.

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