It's the day after a 49ers victory and while I'm pleased that we aren't talking about a losing "streak", I also can't forget about some things that I didn't like in last night's game against the Seattle Seahawks. One of these issues is one that I believe cost us our two losses on the season, as well: play-calling.
The 49ers came out with some successful runs and I thought for sure that would be the tone the entire game. But somewhere along the way we saw Frank Gore used less as the first half wore on. He finished with just 39 yards through two quarters.
Thankfully they returned to the run-game in the 2nd half the results were clear: it worked. I'm still not sure why the team doesn't lean on the run until the opposition sells-out to stop it, and then drop a pass over their heads. Cause it's that easy, I'm sure...which is why I'm not a coach, rather an internet blogger and fanboy.
While it may be a tad too simplistic, the numbers prove that when Frank Gore goes over 100 yards, when he and Kendall Hunter combine for over 20 touches, etc...the 49ers win those games.
And another thing...what's up with Alex Smith on all these designed runs? What, so we're not going to use Colin Kaepernick as much (as he clearly disrupts Smith's rhythm) so we'll just let Alex run those same plays?
Alex is athletic, as evidenced by the touchdown run against the Saints in the playoffs last season, but he's not Kaepernick and he doesn't seem nearly as comfortable running those read-options and QB keepers. He needs to be comfortable in whatever you ask him to do...otherwise he starts making mistakes. Let alone the potential injury to which you expose your starting QB having him run head-first up the middle and into defenders, once on a 3rd and long.
Lastly, these plays, the sort of "gadget plays" that are unconventional...many of them are designed to catch the defense off-guard. You can't do that when you run them three-plus times a game. Where's the element of surprise there?
Alex' TD run vs. the Saints caught everyone off-guard. That's why it worked. It's not that we'd never seen it before, but it wasn't something you'd expect was coming at that point in the game, from that spot on the field, and it hadn't been run all night long. In fact, it was his only run of the game, and it came in the late in the 4th quarter.
I don't mind running the jumbo package, having a defensive linemen in the backfield as an extra blocker or fullback...the reverses and fly-sweeps, fine. People have seen us do those things in every game for almost a season-and-a-half now. But the designed QB runs don't seem to work as well if the defense knows it's coming.
When Kaepernick is in the game the defense definitely expects him to run the ball. That's why his usage was getting out of hand. It wasn't working often enough to disrupt the rhythm of your starting QB by bringing in the backup. Defenses spent more time preparing for it because they saw the team using it so much. Maybe a better idea is to have him throw more often when in the game...but maybe he really shouldn't be in the game at all anyway.
With Smith I don't think defenses expect the run, but when you start having him run the read-option and then two designed QB runs in one game...it starts to seem predictable. We sure weren't fooling anybody on those plays either, so why risk injury or a turnover on a play that doesn't have a great chance of gaining a lot of yards?
I think Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh need to get back to basics and only occasionally mix in the gadget plays. No matter who we play we seem to be able to run the football with Frank Gore, yet we get away from it. Last night, as painful as it was to watch, Alex Smith went back to mostly short, safe passes, the turnovers went down, and we were able to win the game.
Manage the risks, take your shots when you're sure the defense doesn't expect it, and stop with all of the odd QB plays for a while. Maybe we can dust those off in the post-season when teams figure we gave up on them. For now, we need to pound the rock and take care of the football.