The San Francisco 49ers are a team known for playing "smash mouth" football. They love to run the ball, and run it some more. And for the most part that has been a successful offensive scheme. Yet even with much run game success, it has left the team's offense coming up short. Fans of the 49ers like myself are quick to point the finger at offensive coordinator Greg Roman. He is very skilled in designing a run scheme, yet sometimes his play calling and passing scheme leave much to be desired. Predictability, "cute" plays at the wrong times, and red zone issues have been the cause of too much face palms and head scratching, many times leaving touchdowns off the scoreboard in place of field goals or nothing at all. In my eyes, this is his last chance to change, but there is no better time to do so.
The 49ers switched quarterbacks controversially in 2012 to the young star Colin Kaepernick who still leads the offense today. Part of the reason for this switch was Kaepernick offered a higher potential in the passing game than Alex Smith, a great upside for a team that already runs the ball so great. But Colin's youth, and boldness was the downside. This year will be his second consecutive year starting and he has much more understanding of the offense, as well as what it takes to get the job done as a successful quarterback. Colin's youth and inexperience are no longer part of the equation when it comes to the offense. With his already excellent running ability, his passing ability and game IQ are rising.
This growth from their quarterback is paired with added threats at receiver. The 49ers will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree, a hardened veteran in Anquan Boldin, and new additions Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd from free agency. Along with them, they will have second year Quinton Patton, who showed flashes of great play in limited time last year, and newcomer Bruce Ellington who shined in college. Tight end Vernon Davis is amidst a contract dispute but is still a top threat in the game at the position, and second year tight end Vance McDonald will hopefully progress as well. This provides Kaepernick with a vast amount of options to throw the ball too, and don't forget the "deep threat" Bruce Miller at fullback, or any of the running backs the Niners have who are all skilled in catching out of the backfield.
The 49ers run game has added depth and will surely be one of the top producers in the league again this year. With that, the added threats to catch the ball will create great troubles for any opposing defenses. Greg Roman needs to capitalize on this and make sure the offense lives up to its potential, running and passing wise. This means it will have to take a change in tune from is predictability it has had the past few seasons. It seems Roman has figured this out as he said in an interview at mini camp: "We as an offensive staff, after three years here, it was kind of a, it's time to clean out the garage type of thing." He also discussed more three wide receiver sets, something the 49ers seldom use, as well as new concepts for the red zone, an area where the 49ers have struggled recently. This is a good sign for the 49ers offense and their fans, but hopefully it isn't all talk, and actually comes to fruition.
A change from a heavy run scheme is just what the 49ers need. With a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick who can extend plays and gain yards with his legs or buy time for receivers to get open, there is room for more pass plays to be called. His awareness as a passer is growing as well and combining that with many receiving options will help the pass game exponentially. Along with that the NFC West has the best defenses of any division, especially in the trenches. Therefore, running right into those fronts won't always work like it would against a weaker defensive line. Added passing plays that can be effective will cause the run game to open up, and with the personnel to have both succeed there is no reason to rely on one part of the offense only. This will cause opposing defenses much more trouble, as they will have to prepare for and defend both parts of the offense, rather than focus on the run and dare the 49ers to pass.
The 49ers have all the pieces in place to succeed on offense, and along with that a great defense too. But, it will take a change in philosophy to get them to reach their potential, and that is what needs to be done. The potential they have with Kaepernick, a strong run game, and numerous talented pass options is very, very high. They must reach this potential and not be held back by play calling, and stubbornness to change philosophy. If they can do that they will be very tough to beat this year.