But first a disclaimer, I am not now or have ever been a football coach. What I am is a fan with analytical tendencies (I work with spreadsheets all day). I know that hindsight is always 20/20, but there is some value (for me as a fan anyway) to go back and try to verify some perceptions I had while I was watching the game.
Discounting the final series or so that he ran during garbage time, but including the no huddle plays right before the end of the third quarter, here’s how it breaks down:
Total Yards: 51
Yards Per Play: 5.1
Pretty solid numbers, right? But let’s take a closer look at the context of these plays:
Play 1: 3rd down and 6, hand off to Gore for no gain
Context: Up to this point Alex was 4/6 for 27 yards, with one scramble for 4 yards. The O already converted two third downs (3rd and 1, 3rd and 4) and was able to get three first downs. The running game gained 32 yards on 4 carries. Kaepernick comes in for 3rd and 6 for a hand off to Gore up the gut for no gain.
My Opinion: Why not keep the base offense in for this one? They were 2/2 on third downs and gained another first down on 2nd and 5. I mean if you were going to run it anyway, why not leave Alex in and see if he can change stuff up at the line of scrimmage depending on the look the Giants D gave him?
Play 2: 2nd down and 11, hand off to Gore up the middle for a gain of 6 yards
Context: For this drive, Alex was 3/5 for 34 yards. The running game produced 14 yards on 3 carries. Again, the offense was 2/2 on third downs converting on 3rd and 5 and 3rd and 3. Both conversions were pass plays. Kaepernick comes in for 2nd and 11 for a hand off to Gore up the gut for a gain of 6. Alex comes in the next play throws incomplete to Crabs.
My Opinion: Again, offense seemed to be humming going 2/2 on third downs. While the WildKaep play gained 6 yards, why do you disrupt the flow of the offense? IMO, Roman didn’t need to “shake things up” or “jump start” the offense at that point. Keep things close to the vest and bust it out when you really need it.
Play 3: 2nd down and 7, false start on Goodwin, no play
Context: Happened at the start of the series after a Frank Gore run up the middle for 3 yards.
My Opinion: The penalty is not Kaep’s fault. But it must be very disconcerting for Alex to exit the game while on schedule, in regards to down and distance, and reentering the game 2nd and long. The Giants’ defense was able to dial up their pass rush, knowing it was a passing situation for both downs.
Play 4: 1st down and 10, 36 yard pass to Manningham
Context: Play happened with 11 seconds to go in the half. Niners needed to get into FG range to try to go into halftime behind 10 – 6. Offense was starting to struggle at this point (punt and INT in the previous 2 possesions).
My Opinion: This is one of the situations where I don’t mind seeing WildKaep plays run. End of the half
needing a big chunk of yardage to go into halftime with a score. In this instance the Niners get into FG range (which they did), with the potential of springing a long run or pass for a TD. At worst, we don’t get the yardage we need and take a knee at the end of the half.
Play 5: 2nd down and 8, hand off to Manningham for an end around gaining 7 yards
Context: Happened on the first series of the and half after a NY TD putting the Niners down 17 – 3.
My Opinion: This is one of the two WildKaep plays that I thought provided a net benefit to the offense (with the 36 yard pass before the half being the other). It was the two plays after this is when, I thought, the wheels started to fall off. Next play was the false start by L. Davis making a 3rd and 1 into a 3rd and 6, and the play after that was the second Alex INT of the day. While I think that the play was successful, again I feel the timing of it was suspect. Hunter had just gained 2 yards on the play prior to this one. Why not stick with the regular offense? I know the base offense had started to struggle, but at this point, Alex had two solid drives, a three and out, and an INT. The third down conversion rate was also very good (4 for 7). Getting a first down from 2nd and 8 was not an impossible task for the base offense at this point.
Play 6: 1st down and 10, Kaepernick sacked for a loss of 11 yards
Context: Previous play was when Alex Smith FINALLY found Randy Moss deep down the middle for 55 yards. Score was 23 – 3.
My Opinion: Even before I knew the result of this play I was really scratching my head on this one. Your starting QB finally connects on a play that he can build on and turn his otherwise dismal day around and you yank him for a gadget play (yes, no matter how many teams are running read option plays these days, I still see it as a gadget play in the pro level)? No matter how much he was sucking up to this point, Alex made the play, give him the opportunity to finish it and try and turn his day around. The fact that the play resulted in an 11 yard loss, just sucked out whatever momentum the previous play created. It really felt like that the coaching staff screwed up on this one.
Play 7: 1st down and 10, Kaepernick to Crabtree for 7 yards
Play 8: 2nd down and 3, handoff to Hunter up the middle for 7 yards
Play 9: 1st down and 10, Kaepernick incomplete to Moss
Play 10: 2nd down and 10, Kaepernick run up the middle for a loss of -1
Context: I grouped these together because they were the series of plays Kaep run no huddle at the end of the third. Score was still 23 – 3 at this point. Play previous to this series of four was an Alex Smith completion for 12 yards to Crabs.
My Opinion: This was when I started thinking that If you want to pull Alex, then pull him. He’s had a crappy day so far and no one was going to blame the coaching staff if they did. On the other hand, Alex did have a good completion to Crabs the play before for a first so if the coaching staff wanted to stick with him then keep Kaep on the bench and see if Alex can still salvage the game. After all there was still one minute and change left in the third quarter. What you don’t do, IMHO, is pull your starting QB after a first down, put in your backup QB for a series of no huddle plays, then put back your starting QB for 3rd and 11 and tell him “go get them”. I feel that this series summarized the failure of our coaching staff to effectively utilize the WildKaep plays all afternoon.
Other Observations and Conclusion:
It seems that Roman calls the WildKaep for situations where he is trying to get the offense back on schedule with regards to down and distance. This is evidenced by Plays 1, 2, 3 and 5 I summarized above. These also seem to be his “shot plays” where the offense is trying to gain big yardage in a short amount of time.
I think while the WildKaep can be and has been an integral part of our offense, the coaching staff needs to re-evaluate its use so that it doesn’t detract to the flow of the game. My thought while I was watching the game was “Don’t call it for the sake of calling it. Keep the base offense in if they are doing well.” I think that in this particular game, there were some instances that they ran it prematurely (while the base offense was moving well) and got the offense into some bad situations. Now if the plays work, we all could be singing a different tune today (like I said, hindsight is always 20/20). But why risk putting the O into bad situations if the gadget plays don’t work? Given the number of times the Niners have run it the past few weeks it has become predictable. And as the game went on it became evident that the Giants were prepared and too athletic up front for it to be consistently effective.
The Niners pride themselves as a good, fundamentally sound football team. All the trickery was great (hell, I was jumping up and down during the Jets and Bills game) when it was working. But maybe it’s time to get back to the fundamentals (on both sides of the ball) this team prides itself on.