The 49ers mantra for the 2012 season, more than anything else, should be lightening war.
This is an idea that’s been percolating in my head since last season. Watching the team evolve and play under Harbaugh week in and week out, it became clear the staff was approaching the game a little differently than other teams. The special teams were a bigger focus on the Niners than on any team I can remember in recent memory, and not strictly kickoffs either. There was a synergy to the way the team approached the game. The special teams pinned teams behind the 20, the defense kept them there, then the offense would enjoy excellent field position that fueled the team to a Top 11 scoring attack. It was exciting, and it struck me as very shrewd and intelligent. Watching it take place, I was reminded, of all things, about the German war machine in WW2. This was only reaffirmed by something Roman had to say this week:
“The other part of it is, when we make decisions on offense, it's big picture. The offense, defense and special teams are all intertwined.”
For me, this brought to mind one thing: the doctrine of combined arms. Forgive me if this feels like a boring history lesson, but I love that apparent fact that our staff seems to be drawing upon military doctrines in their effort crush their opponents.
To be brief, combined arms is simply an approach that, as Wikipedia can briefly summarize, “seeks to integrate different branches of a military to achieve mutually complementary effects”.
As a history nut, I can’t think of a better example of that than the German’s famous Blitzkrieg attack during the early stages of WW2. Simply put, the Germans were one of the first militaries to truly grasp the potential of mechanized and armored forces. They’d launch an overwhelming assault in which they’d concentrate air and artillery attacks at certain points along the enemy line. After the initial bombardment, the armor would then attack and breach the lines. Then not only would tanks pour through the gaps, but so would mechanized infantry. The mechanized nature of the attack allowed the Germans to strike quickly enough that their enemies could never regain their balance after the initial attack and were soon surrounded on their rear. Infantry on foot would then move forward and complete the encirclement, often annihilating the enemy entirely. Brutally efficient and quick.
That is the same approach I believe the Niners are taking towards their whole team. An integrated attack in which the offense, special teams, and defense all combine to form a greater whole that together overwhelms the enemy on all fronts. The combined attack works in harmony to maximize each unit’s efforts and together they elevate one another’s play. Of course, for a true blitzkrieg attack to work, you need speed on your side to quickly overwhelm the enemy to get them off balance and put them on the ropes. One thing the Niners lacked last year on offense was speed. Without it, they could never effectively punish opponents or threaten to score at all times.
Watching the Niners’ draft class take shape earlier in April, what element became apparent pretty quickly? Speed. The staff made no secret they were looking to upgrade the offense’s ability to, in their words, strike quickly and like lightening.
I might be making a leap here, but you know what that brings to mind? Lightening war. Jenkins, and James even more, bring the kind of quick-strike dynamic the offense completely lacked last. Baalke had this to say after the draft: "You can never have enough explosive playmakers on a football team,”. Make no mistake, while this is a team built around the power run game, it should be clear that Harbaalke also want an offense that is always a threat to punish a defense quickly and often, at all levels of the field.
That by itself isn’t very special. As a philosophy it’s practically a dime-a-dozen among teams throughout the league.
But apply that philosophy to what the team already has in place. A defense that overwhelms opponents through an at-times unstoppable mix of athleticism, discipline, and ferocity. A special teams unit with its own identity that routinely tilts the game and pins the opponents deep in their own territory. Combine those units with an offense that’s capable of attacking defenses and punishing them both quickly or with sustained, soul sapping drives.
Think back to the Buc’s game last year. The Niners’ annihilated the Bucs in all three phases of the game en route to a 48-3 blowout over a team that was, at the time, 3-1 and went on to beat the Saints the next week.
That has always been the blueprint for the Niners under Harbaugh. Of that I’ve been sure, watching that game unfold and noticing the almost synchronized nature of the team. It was beautiful to see, but it was only a taste I think of what’s to come should the offense develop as planned.
If the offensive improvements are real and the passing game does improve this season, I think we are in for some truly exciting times. Harbaalke are trying to build the kind of team that the salary cap was meant to banish: a truly loaded team that’s effective all over the field and simply outclasses opponents ala the dynastic Niners and Cowboys of the 80s and 90s.
The Niners are poised to explode upon the league this season with overwhelming force the likes of which we haven’t seen in some time.