Our offseason was absolutely nuts. If you were judging by the pre-season, you'd have good reason to think Harbaugh is in way over his head. You know, like needing to call the more experienced coach before the game to come to a gentleman's agreement. Or, you know, throwing passes with unsigned Alex Smith..."What? That's illegal? Whoops, sorry, I'm new at this, I won't do it again." (Sure, like Harbaugh doesn't have the entire rulebook memorized, complete with page numbers and which sentences have stains on them.)
Then of course you had those darn pesky Saints bringing the house and teams sacking our QBs like crazy. Oh yeah, and speaking of QBs, what about Alex Smith as our starter? Or Harbaugh's faith in Kapernick as the backup? Or Harbaugh's cutting of McCown and grabbing another rookie project QB as the No. 3?
What about cutting Clements, losing Baas, Lawson and Franklin, and trading TaylorMaysGump for a sack of magic beans? What about Gore holding out and injuries and lions and tigers and bears (oh my!)?
These kinds of things might lead some people to wonder; "What the heck is Harbaugh doing?" Well let me explain it to you plain and simple. A lot of coaches in the NFL do things a certain way. New coaches come in, see those experienced guys doing things that way and think "Hey, they probably know more than I do, so I'll do those things too!" Here's what you have to know: Harbaugh doesn't give a snow-cone machine in space what other coaches do. He's got his own way of doing things, he's confident in that, and he couldn't care less what anybody says about it. Now this might come across as a bad thing. However, before you start freaking out, let me explain the genius behind Ol Man Harbaugh.
Getting Creamed in the Pre-Season
You watch games like the ones against the Saints and the Texans and you gotta wonder what Harbaugh is doing. You can make some excuses for him, like "he doesn't have the whole playbook installed yet". But trust me, Greg Roman could have called up some quick throws to beat the blitz. Vic Fangio could have called up some blitzes of his own to show those mean old veteran coaches that Harbaugh can play tough too. So why didn't Harbaugh go this route? Simply put, he couldn't care less about pre-season games. He's big enough that he can refrain from retaliating while he stands there and watches his guys get the bejeezus kicked out of them.
Listen to me: his plan all along was to keep things simple, not show his hand, and not get his guys hurt. If you listen to interviews with players, you'll hear most of the veterans expressing how little they care about pre-season games. Harbaugh is just the same way. He sees what he needs to see in practice and gamefilm from last season.
This might seems crazy, but it makes sense if you think about it. After all, if you're running a plain, vanilla scheme in the pre-season in a pre-scripted game (cough, Sean Payton), you can't really judge your players. You can judge whether they're ballers or not, but that's about it. If you pit guys one on one and judge off of that there would be a lot of current players who would never have gotten jobs. Football might seem to be a gladiator sport, but it's really more like a strategy board game. As a coach, you know the strengths and weaknesses of your pieces and you put those pieces into the best position to succeed. That's what game-planning and play-calling are all about. That's what hardcounts, audibles, and fakes are all about. When big plays happen in the NFL, it's usually not because somebody messed up. That might appear to be the reason on the surface of course. But if you look at it, you'll usually find that one team managed to fool the other team or get them into some kind of mismatch. For example, if you manage to force Aldon Smith to cover Vernon Davis, Davis is going to win that match-up 99% of the time. You can look at your screen and yell at Aldon Smith all you want, but the blame really goes on the shoulders of the coaching staff for allowing that match-up to happen in the first place.
So what am I trying to say here? I'm saying that Harbaugh somehow knows what his players can give him. He knows their strengths and weaknesses. He also knows exactly what kind of scheme he's going to be running. He signed players, cut players, and gave 53 players roster spots based on his exact offensive and defensive scheme. The offense and defense you will see in the regular season will look NOTHING like what you saw in preseason. For example, you heard about how Crabtree is going to be a key piece of the offense and how his skills fit this offense really well? Here's the reason why that is: Harbaugh doesn't design a scheme and then plug players into it. He designs his scheme with his players in mind. Routes involving Crabtree have probably been designed specifically for Crabtree. That's the way Harbaugh rolls. That's how he gets success out of sub-par players. That's why his QBs look so good. He isn't so much a QBs genius as he is a genius at designing things specifically for his players in the way they think and play best. Heck, he's probably got separate Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick playbooks! They might contain exactly the same plays, but they would be arranged differently. The Alex Smith plan would rely on different plays than Kaepernick's. Of course, this isn't just him. His assistants were heavily involved of course. But this way of doing things is signature Harbaugh. This way has also been proven to be successful. This is the way the Patriots roll and it's the answer to why they have such good drafts. Most teams don't work this way, but Harbaugh isn't most teams.
We know Harbaugh has been holding back. That much is obvious. The players have even said as much. This isn't just plays either. Harbaugh holds back medical details and announcements about starters so that the other team can't focus in on specific weaknesses. They have to prepare as if every one of our guys will be healthy because they just don't know for sure. This is smart on Harbaugh's part.
Keep Them Off-Balance
Here's something else you probably didn't think of. Greg Roman's offense and Vic Fangio's defense will actually be different EVERY SINGLE WEEK! I know this is a strange concept in 49erland, so I will briefly explain it. Greg Roman and Vic Fangio will work with Jim Harbaugh to come up with battle-plans that would make Napoleon look sick. I don't want to get too excited about the combination of a "Cold-blooded, stone-cold, serial killer" working with a nutcase mentored by a former CIA agent. But if you go back and look at Stanford's games last season you'll notice that they were won not so much with superior talent or athleticism, but with superior game-planning and execution. These guys are masters at exposing other teams' weaknesses and hiding their own. Just wait and see. If you think I'm nuts, wait until you see Tavaris Jackson get planted on his backside over and over again and Freaky Jean going all PBJ on the sidelines.
Ability to Adapt
I know, I know, adaptation is a strange concept too. But Harbaugh is good at this. He can win with a team using a featured back like Toby Gerhart and he can he win with a team using a multi-pronged rushing attack like they used last year with Stefan Tayler, Tyler Gaffney, etc. If Alex Smith gets hurt or if Colin Kaepernick comes into the game for a different reason, expect to see something totally different out of the offense. Roman won't keep calling "The Alex Plays". Instead you'll see plays better suited to CK7. Heck, don't be surprised to see elements of the Pistol Offense. It goes back to what I was saying earlier. Harbaugh doesn't care what other people do, he doesn't care what other people say. He's going to do what he has to do to put his guys in a position to succeed and win games. If that requires letting the other team beat up his team in pre-season, he's going to do it; no matter how much people scream about it. He knows what he's doing (or thinks he does at least) and he's going to take care of business his way.
We're going to have a lot better season than most people realize. A 10-6, 11-5 season is not out of the question. If our guys execute, we will win games. It's as simple as that. We'll do it too. This is why Harbaugh built a team of players with a certain type of mentality. These aren't guys that are going to give up. These players are to give their all from start to finish. If somebody doesn't execute, we have some quality depth to come in and shore things up. I could be totally wrong on that aspect, but that's my gut feeling. Like I said, IF our guys execute, we will win games.
Why would I make such a ludicrous prediction?
- Here's the thing: we've been losing so long, we've forgotten what good coaching looks like. We've forgotten what good coaching can do and how to trust good coaches.
- Not to beat a dead horse, but we have (arguably) upgraded every position on this football team from what we had last year, even if it's as simple a thing as having better depth and competition. By that reasoning alone, we should win more games than last year. I mean, Edwards as the number 1 instead of Crabtree and Crabs at number 2? Sick! Kendall Hunter in the backfield sometimes instead of Dixon? Sick! A real pass-rushing OLB and two DE's who can get consistent pressure as well? Sick! Having other options than Goldson at safety? Having Whitner as our SS and mebbe a real ballhawk as FS? SICK! PWilly having a mini-PWilly next to him and both of them rushing the passer more this year? Sick! Carlos Rogers as our number 1 corner instead of Clements and a bunch of young corners who are physical, young, and FAST!?!? (You know, instead of a bunch of old guys who've lost a step.) SICK! I'd say this is definitely a good reason to expect us to win more games this year.
- Last year we had to face Matt Hasselbeck. This year we have to face Tavaris Jackson. I may be dead wrong, but Jackson just doesn't scare me as much. I'd say he's a definite downgrade from Hasselbeck. The Cardinals have also lost a bunch of key players. For reasons of roster turnover, I think we should win more games this year.
- We have better coaching than last year. You should all remember the pain of not getting plays in on time, bad challenges, bad play-calling, bad, no, HORRIBLE overall coaching. Let's face it, our coaching was an embarrassment last year. The Old Guy in the Hat couldn't call plays for a pop-Warner team. Our head coach couldn't identify, let alone solve, problems even if they had neon signs on them. Our coaching staff is so much better this year, we should win more games just based on that.
- Finally, our execution last year was abysmal. Some guys overachieved, but overall we played like a sloppy, disorganized mob. We lost one game due to Clements fumbling an interception return. We lost another game due to a pair of touchdowns Clements gave up biting on play-fakes with no safety support behind him. These kinds of mistakes haunted us last year. We fought hard and stuck with some of the best teams in the league despite the horrible play-calling, not getting plays in on time, and the bad game-planning. But we lost those close games because of stupid brain farts by experienced veterans. Again, we played like a sloppy, disorganized mob. It was every man for himself out there. By virtue of better execution from the coaching staff and having players working as a unified body, we should win more games this year.
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME REAL 49ER FOOTBALL? ARE YOU READY TO WATCH HARBAUGH GO ALL INCEPTION ON OUR OPPONENTS? ARE YOU READY TO CHUG SOME KOOL-AID? ARE YOU READY TO WATCH A NASTY, SWARMING DEFENSE AND AN EXCITING, DYNAMIC, INNOVATIVE OFFENSE?
I AM!!! LET'S GET THIS SEASON STARTED!