I, like most of you, continually scour the internet for 49ers articles to hear what sports writers and pundits are saying about our team. It could be an exercise in trying to validate what I already know about the 49ers but mostly it's because I can never get enough coverage. It's good to see the 49ers get so much respect nationally but a large majority of writers still aren't respecting the 49ers. Alex Smith is on the verge of shedding his game manager label but many are still calling him the product of a good team. The most egregious mistake, or at least the most inacurate one, is the constant labeling of the 49ers as an "old-fashioned" team. The most recent one that aggravated me and pushed me into writing this post was Pete Prisco's short explanation of his number one ranking of San Francisco this week in the CBSSports NFL power rankings. "They are an old-fashioned team doing it in a different era of football. Can they sustain it?" As if their gameplan is esoteric and fleeting, like the 49ers are holding on to their land lines when everyone else is buying iPhone 5's. After the jump I'll provide statistics and examples to show that the 49ers aren't old fashioned but simply smart.
The most commonly cited evidence that the 49ers are an old-fashioned team is the style that they play. Nothing irritates me more than the terminology "ground and pound." Mostly because Rex Ryan used it so much that it became a joke. The 49ers are not a ground and pound team. They are a team that implements, and then adjusts their game plan depending on how the game develops. Unfortunately for other NFL teams the 49ers' defense has no glaring weakness, so there's no room for adjustment. You essentially have to pick your poison. If the 49ers are ahead in a game they run the ball. Especially if they can, but that would seem like common sense right? They want to run time off the clock and keep as much possession as possible, shouldn't that be obvious? A statistic that has been maybe overlooked is the fact that the 49ers have spent a grand total of 0 minutes behind in a game this season. Zero. zilch. Nada. Granted it's a small sample size but telling enough. When Coach Harbaugh sees that he's beating Green Bay on the road he's not going to keep throwing the ball and see his team possibly go 3 and out while only taking 15 seconds off the clock. During the Green Bay game the 49ers had a total of 13 drives versus only 11 from Green Bay. Even though the 49ers were leading the entire game Alex Smith attempted 26 passes versus the 32 rushing attempts which is hardly imbalanced. The total time of possession was in favor of San Francisco 33 minutes to 27 for Green Bay. The victory was dominant and methodical but old-fashioned? Hardly.
Alright so we know that the 49ers will go big and run the ball down your throats all day long if you let them, but let's take a look at a game where the 49ers were behind and what they decided to do. Last year in the playoff victory over the Saints, they took a 24-23 lead on a TD pass to Darren Sproles in the 4th quarter. On the ensuing drive, the first three plays that the 49ers called were passes, the third one being the long gain by Vernon Davis to the New Orleans' 30. At this point, in field goal range and down by 1, Harbaugh goes back to running the ball 2 times until the iconic 25-yard touchdown run by Smith on 3rd down. Now after the Saints took the lead again after the Jimmy Graham touchdown the 49ers had a little over a minute and a half to get down the field being down by 3. All six plays that final drive were passes except for the spike to stop the clock. I know this all seems obvious but it's simply to illustrate that the 49ers only do what they have to. If the game calls for passing the ball you better believe that the 49ers will pass the ball.
Methodical, smart, efficient; these are all adjectives that I'm fine with being attached to the 49ers. San Francisco is definitely not an old-fashioned team though. This off-season, the FO made sure that our offense would be anything but dated and stale. We still have players that haven't debuted for the offense. The defense is the most dominant in the NFC and possibly the entire NFL. I still don't understand how it would be hard to maintain these strategies throughout a whole season, especially considering all the inconsistencies and drops last game against the Lions. The 49ers will only get better not worse. If anything some of the gimmicky offenses that are out there are infinitely more suspect than 49ers'. Carolina for instance is running a modified college spread offense and it looks like it got a little bit exposed by the Giants on Thursday night.
So to all of the writers out there who want to label the 49ers old-fashioned and fading fast, do yourself a favor and pay attention throughout the entire season. You just might learn something.