The last few minutes of Super Bowl 47 stands out in my mind's eye. Those four downs in the red zone will forever be etched in frustration for as long as I live. Almost any one of us could go on about the no calls or that frustrating timeout, but I still struggle to grasp those play calls.
With the abundance of no flags, it seemed pretty evident the refs were going to let the teams play. I do not agree with this officiating mentality when there are rules in place, and especially when officiating can impact who takes home the Lombardi Trophy. Nonetheless, with those final minutes and seconds rolling off the clock, it was undoubtedly the situation. The fans knew it, the players knew it, and the coaches and coordinators must've known it.
When Kap attempted three incomplete passes to Crabtree, I was seriously dumbfounded. It was a tragedy to get that close and lose. I will never understand why we didn't run the ball down the Raven's throats. Isn't that our game? I was sad and frustrated.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is often hailed as an offensive genius. Still, some of the play calls can leave us scratching our heads. Roman has come under more scrutiny this season. And rightly so. Although all coaches are involved in researching and setting up the game plan, it is Roman who makes the call. At the same time, the coordinators present everything to the head coach before it is installed and it is the position coaches job to make sure the players learn it.
Football is a team sport and there are many moving parts to creating a successful game plan. And let us not forget, when Harbaugh is presented with a game plan, it is within his discretion to axe, modify or approve it. Further, during the week, the team implements and puts into practice the plays the offensive coordinator believes the team is most likely to use. If the head coach were to see flaws in the game plan, he can bounce those plays. Further, he has full veto power during the game. He may look at an opponent, realize something is not working and make a change.
I have no qualms voicing opinions, even when they are not popular. I intended to write this post with the intention of calling out some of Roman's flaws. But, as this write-up began to take shape, I realized how much conflict is present when it comes to Greg Roman. I find it difficult to blame all of the 49ers offensive woes on him. But, do not take that to mean he does not deserve criticism.
The talent on the 49ers offense is undeniable. The defending NFC champions have arguably one of the best offensive lines in the game. Together, Anthony Davis, Joe Staley, Alex Boone, Mike Iupati and Jonathan Goodwin are a textbook unit. In the beginning of the season, the team had its struggles with wide receivers. Now our top three wideouts, Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Quinton Patton have the potential to be lethal. Knowing the abilities of the 49ers receivers, coupled with the abilities of Vernon Davis and our strong run game, there is not another squad with equal talent across the board. It begs the question, why haven't the 49ers ever ranked higher than the bottom third on offense?
It is frustrating to see talent under utilized. Some calls drive me insane. Yet, often even after a terrible offensive series, the 49ers will bust out something spectacular. It is a roller coaster.
Roman is a run specialist. 49ers have found success with it. However, the pass game and timing of plays does not appear to be Roman's strong point. And sometimes, I wonder if Roman is overwhelmed by too much information. It is almost like he prepares for a little of everything he could possibly face rather than learning his opponent's true tendencies. Does he consider what the 49ers do best? Come game day, it's not what Roman knows that matters, it's what the players know how to execute. Instead, we are almost paralyzed by the analysis.
I am not saying the game plan should be simple. It needs to be smart.
What is interesting is the pattern. I believed many of the problems we saw under the helm of Alex Smith would be fixed with Colin Kaepernick. Still, we see near identical problems with two very different quarterbacks. It is a strong indicator of the underlying organizational philosophy. While this philosophy may stress fans to the limits, it is difficult to knock a philosophy that ultimately wins games.
When rumors materialized teams had requested interviews with Roman for head coach positions, I wondered if teams were seeing something fans could not? After all, they have advance scouts who study teams tendencies before games. Advance scouts know which teams are difficult to prepare for. Clearly, if Roman shows the element of unpredictability, there is a strength to be had. At the same time, he interviewed for an entirely different job description. Roman could turn out to be a better head coach. It is hard to say what in particular makes him attractive to the teams.
When it comes to Roman, many fans are bewildered. I asked fans on Twitter to use one word to describe their feelings about Roman's work as offensive coordinator. I wanted to get an idea of the general impression of the 49ers fan base. Here are some of the responses.
@SoCaliSteph Conflicted— Andrew Nolan (@Nolanandrew11) January 14, 2014
@SoCaliSteph complicated— Torrey O'Brien (@torrey37) January 14, 2014
@SoCaliSteph Frustrating!— Darrell Williams (@49ersJunkie) January 14, 2014
@SoCaliSteph Innovative.— Grant M P (@grantmp1) January 14, 2014
@SoCaliSteph Those that hate him have forgotten Jimmy Raye— Sean Huddleston (@hudd07) January 14, 2014
@SoCaliSteph long-con— Sean Silveira (@seancca) January 14, 2014
The responses showed mixed reactions, but there is a general feeling of vexation. The 49ers are not as strong as they should be. It is true, the 49ers are finding ways to get the win. And, nobody will dare to say Roman is not creative with his schemes. Still, it feels like an underachievement with the amount of talent on this team.
When the 49ers do manage to get the ball into scoring position, the offense struggles in the red zone despite the many weapons at our disposal. We settle for field goals. In fact, we are number one in the league with 105 made over the last three seasons. Although points are points, the lack of ability to score touchdowns on great drives is maddening. And against Seattle, the opportunities to get into the red zone will be more difficult. The 49ers cannot leave points on the field.
Although many of us can speculate, most of us recognize we are not privy to everything going on to offer absolute criticism. Roman could probably give a logical explanation of why he made some of those unsuccessful situational play calls. But if he did, I suspect he would reveal much of the game plan.
While Jim Harbaugh knows the game plan, sees the plays executed in practice, hears the play and can veto it at any point thereafter, he is not a coach who demands total organizational control. As a premier coach, Harbaugh is certainly not going anywhere and is untouchable among fans. Nobody is willing to engage in that type of criticism. And, I am not sure anyone should be overly critical in this way. What Harbaugh does works. He surrounds himself with smart people and has complete confidence in his delegation and backs the decision making.
Lastly, we are not privy to everything. As for me, the jury is still out on Roman. The fact is offensive coordinators surround themselves with knowledgeable people who can offer viable suggestions to him before and during the game. I think he could use help when it comes to passing and the 49ers could be unstoppable. Or, perhaps these game plans are part of his genius? The games are a little too close for my taste, but it is a possibility.
All good teams save schemes for the playoffs. I am anxious to see what Roman has this Sunday. I want him to blow me away. If he does not, it will be difficult for me to continue to defend him. As offensive coordinator, Roman makes the calls. Unfair as it may seem to some, the criticism will continue to fall on Roman.
Speaking of describing Roman in one word, friend of the site Dylan DeSimone won the day with the best response: