Vanilla; that's the description I come up with when I watch the 49er's offense in action. Maybe you use "gun-shy" or just plain "boring" to term the scoring attack. So what happened to the halcyon days of yore (read: last season) where Kaepernick was scampering through the Packer's dear Liza defense, scorching Atlanta, and engineering one of the greatest "almost" moments in Super Bowl history?
Alex Smith happened. Yes, that is correct; the current offensive woes are Alex Smith's fault...And maybe Jim Harbaugh's and Greg Roman's too, but mostly Alex Smith. I'll get a few things out of the way so I can make my argument: obviously this offense is built to run first and grind teams into submission. It is everything Mike Singletary wanted but could not generate. Harbaugh and Roman's (I'm just going to call them "Rombaugh" from here on out) offense is institutionally conservative but, from time-to-time, shows a bit of flair. Last season, once Kap took over, it seemed to be all flair. He ran wild, he gunned the ball downfield, and the offense looked downright filthy.
So why is this year different? Arguments could be made about injuries and such, but those talking points are played out. Kap still has his legs so where are his big running plays? The biggest difference between this year and last year is that the man behind Kaepernick is no longer Alex Smith.
We all know the story: Alex Smith No. 1 pick - bad coaching - under achiever - placed in the right system - redemption. He led the 49ers to an NFC Championship game and, before getting hurt and supplanted, he looked to be on pace for taking this team on another playoff run.
Imagine being Rombaugh in that situation. Obviously your guy is Colin Kaepernick, but you also have this perfectly capable player sitting on your bench. A second QB that has proven he can win big games and lead your team! Of course, in that scenario you can afford to be that risky with your starter. You have peace of mind in Alex Smith meaning you can utilize all of the talents Kaepernick offers, even the risky ones.
The strategy last year of opposing defenses has not changed. It is still a matter of "stack the line of scrimmage and make him beat us with his arm." Last year the 49ers shattered this approach by being creative and, simply, more dynamic in the running game than opponents were prepared for. A lot of that was because Kap was so good running the ball; something he is not doing this year.
Teams have now had a full off-season to dial up schemes to combat Kap's abilities which may make Romabugh weary of letting him run loose. No matter how smart and talented a "mobile" QB is, the risk of injury is always high. I don't even want to think about what happens if Kap goes down. That could be a situation where you actually see a defense put 10 guys in the box when the 49ers are in a three wide-out set on 3rd and 8. Because if Kap goes down we get Colt McCoy and that is scary.
With Smith riding the pine Rombaugh felt secure in taking risks with their new toy. With Smith gone they are not secure with McCoy stepping in. Wait...
I guess I just need to find ways to enjoy games with this team running draw plays on 3rd and 9.
It's still Alex Smith, stupid.