Jim Harbaugh rose to prominence as a head coach at Stanford leading an under performing football program back to national stage. Jim did it his way as well playing kind of old school power football when it was unfashionable. The game was based on strong offensive lines and running the ball combined with safe passing. Sort of a mash up of Bo Schembeckler running game with west coast passing concept. Ball control running combined with ball control passing, combined with good defense and good field position.
The Cardinal also played with a chip on its shoulder after being overlooked generally by the media, probably in large part because of its lack of style.
It was all part of the Harbaugh alchemy and it worked a treat in the finesse driven Pac 10. Stanford won the Orange Bowl. Andrew Luck playing generally conservative football and throwing about 20-25 a game was runner up in the Heisman (the winner being the more flashy Cam Newton the exact opposite to Harbaugh football, the one man offense).
Harbaugh came to the 49ers and got a lot of success using the same formula. Tough defense, power running conservative passing, field position, no turnovers and a team with chip on its shoulder for being constantly written off by the media, (remember the blue collars, the moaning about the lack of respect and not having any players on NFL highlight reels). All this in a so called pass happy qb driven NFL ruled by guys like P Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
So a funny thing happened on Sunday when the Colts played the 49ers. One team was playing Stanford Harbaugh football. The only thing was it was the Colts. Stanford alumni Pep Hamilton designed a game plan based on power football, they even traded to get Trent Richardson as a statement of intent (although Bradshaw small but a very physical runner did the damage). The Colts power ran most of the day with 39 rushing attempts, they played safe in the passing game with Andrew Luck putting in a game manager like 18 for 27 for 174 yards (very Stanford like numbers). The Colts provided no turnovers and kept the 49ers in bad field position the whole game. The Colts played with the chip on their shoulder and embraced the underdog tag, (you can see this in the enthuisasm Chuck Pagano had on the side line after the first three an out by the 49ers). If you wanted to remember what 49ers football looked like or Stanford football looked like under Harbaugh rewatch the game and watch from the Colts perspective.
The thing is was not a one off thing. Last week the Seahawks belted the 49ers for all sorts of reasons. However, the thing I noted was that the Seahawks were doing it the Harbaugh way. Sort of as if Pete Carroll took note at what Harbaugh did to him in the Pac 10 and started building in his image. The Seahawks ran the ball about 40+ times and played really safe with Wilson who threw only 18 times. The Seahawks had no turnovers, tough defense and kept the 49ers in bad field position for most of the day. Pete Carroll has been coaching with a chip on his shoulder against Jim and was serving Harbaugh football back (I really don't remember USC playing like this).
Since Harbaugh arrived the 49ers have lost 11 games. Three times to the Seahawks who play the old school power football way, twice to the Giants who when they are playing well play the old school Coughlin/Parcells way, (when they play badly they are kind of pass happy and make heaps of turnovers), to the Colts who came to play the old school way, twice to the Ravens who were built the old school way before selling everyone to pay Flacco (good defense, good running back, and Flacco not turning the ball over), the Vikings who have Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder who are also forced to play conservative run orientated football and didn't turn over the football that day.
The funny thing is all football commentators early on said the 49ers couldn't beat the so called high powered offenses with the their glamor QBs because they were unfashionable. Harbaugh's 49ers have never lost to Aaron Rodgers (played 3 times), Drew Brees (played twice) or Tom Brady.
So is playing Harbaugh football the way to beating Harbaugh?