Dear Greg Roman,
You are the coach. I’m just a fan. I make no pretense that I could ever do your job. I can’t create an offensive terminology, put together a playbook or teach a lineman proper technique. I can’t diagram a play with Xs and Os and instruct the players on their assignments. These are skills you have developed over years of hard work and study and by all reports you are very good at them.
But even highly competent people can benefit from outside advice and perspective. In fact, good leaders welcome it. So, here are 5 suggestions from an outsider that would upgrade the 49ers offense and improve your job performance.
1) STOP TELEGRAPHING YOUR PLAYS TO THE DEFENSE! Your reliance on formation, personnel and movement gives the play away. NFL teams have tons of film on the 49ers offense. They now know what’s coming because you tell them before the play has started. Two salient examples:
- SHORT YARDAGE: You favor heavy formations with extra blockers and tight spacing. It’s always a run. Usually to the tailback up the middle with a pulling guard and a fullback lead. That play is so recognizable and slow developing it is always stuffed. See last game against Cardinals. The problem with this formation and this play is that it limits the offensive options and simplifies things for the defense. Please, oh please stop giving the defense such obvious "tells". Every team knows what’s coming. Line up with conventional 2-2 or 3-1 personnel. Spread the defense. Force them to guess what’s coming. Give yourself some options. At the least, run quick hitters that don’t give the defense time to react. For example, you have a 6’4" 235 lb. quarterback. Have you watched ANY Carolina games this year? The Panthers almost always run a sneak with Cam Newton on short yardage. They are almost ALWAYS successful. Or line up tight and run an edge play (a toss) with Kendall Hunter or LaMichael James. Of course you have to actually have them in the lineup on short yardage often enough to not telegraph an outside run when they are in. The bottom line: DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT to create some doubt and confusion for the defense. ANY defense can stop a play if they KNOW what’s coming. Too often with the 49ers short yard offense, they do!
- READ OPTION: You run this play so rarely you make it easy for the defense to defend it. They see the formation and immediately assign a spy to Kap, make sure the outside backer sets the edge and pinch the middle to cut off the inside run. They can do this because the 49ers are totally predictable when they run the read option. There are invariably only two options -- hand it off quickly for a run up the middle, or Kap keeps it, attempts to run wide and gets tackled for a loss or short gain by the outside backer or spy. If you are going to run the read option, you need to run it at least 30% of the time. You need to have some pass options. Occasionally have the running back trail the QB to allow for the toss. I'm trying to remember if I've ever seen KAP run the toss play or pass off the read option. We never do and that's why the play doesn't work any more. It's too predictable. If you are going to keep the read option in the playbook then you need to run it often enough with enough different wrinkles to keep the defense guessing.
2) STOP TRYING TO FORCE A SQUARE PEG IN A ROUND HOLE: At this stage of his development, Colin Kaepernick is not a good pocket passer. His release is slow. His footwork is terrible. He’s anxious in the pocket, slow in his progressions, doesn’t see the whole field and prone to drop his head and run under pressure. The result is more negative plays on drop backs than should happen with a QB of his athleticism and speed. So, stop trying to have him stand in the pocket and read the WHOLE field. It took Steve Young 8 years to become a good drop back quarterback. Kaepernick may one day be as good as Young became, but he's not there now. So, stop sending in plays that require skills he doesn't have. He's best on the move, so MOVE him -- on virtually every play. Put him in the pistol or gun. Run motion with him and the back... Run bootlegs. Roll him out. Give him quick reads and if not there let him improvise. That’s when he’s at his best and most dangerous. Train the receivers to run their routes and if the ball isn’t there, work back to the QB. Kap will find them.
3) DEVELOP A SHORT PASSING GAME: When the running game isn’t working or the opponent is blitzing -- PASS to RUN! This was a staple of the Bill Walsh offense. Three-step drops and quick passes to the back in the flat, or tailback and wide receiver screens. Frank Gore used to catch 50 passes a year. I doubt he’s forgotten how. Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James are both good receivers. I’ve heard the excuse that the 49ers O-line is not suited for these plays. That’s such a weak excuse. TEACH THEM! They are big guys but they are good athletes. Probably better athletes than the O-linemen from the 80s and 90s teams. It’s simply inexcusable that the San Francisco 49ers, a team with a vault full of film on Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense have a non-existent short passing game.
4) STOP BEING CUTE. We have too many NEGATIVE plays. We have too many 3 and outs. Too often we go for the BIG play when a little play that moves the chains is what is needed. Too many of our pass plays are low percentage down the field passes. Yes, KAP has a strong arm but he doesn't see the field well nor is he particularly accurate. The 49ers need to focus more on keeping ahead of down and distance and less on trying to hit the home run play.
5) OBSERVE AND ADJUST: One of the most maddening things about the 49ers offense is that you fall in love with a play or style of play and stubbornly pursue it long after the point at which it’s proven that it’s NOT working. Or you succeed with a style of play and then abandon it because of game circumstances. In the Cardinal game you blitzed the Cardinal's defense in the first quarter with some creative and aggressive play calling. Then you abandoned this strategy and went hyper conservative for 2 and 1/2 quarters and almost lost the game. You ran Frank Gore 13 times for 14 yards, most of them inside runs the Cardinals stuffed every time. If something is working keep doing it. If it's NOT working, do something different! Change the back. Change the line spacing. Spread the defense. Go to 3 step drops and the short passing game. Get the backs in space. But running over and over into the middle of the line because you THINK your guys should be able to block their GUYS is just being stubborn and fruitless. I imagine Frank Gore would agree (and benefit!). He certainly didn’t seem happy after the Cardinals game.
Respectfully – Steve Kanzler (fan)