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Vikings 27 - 49ers 24: Cutting to the "offensive" chase

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Normally this would be the spot where I do a rundown of the Mike Singletary's "Formula for Success" for yesterday's game.  However, I think it's safe to say "Finish" is what we would have focused on and I really just don't feel like thinking about that aspect of the game today.

Instead, I thought we should just cut to the offensive chase this morning.  As Florida Danny pointed out multiple times yesterday, the so-called "direct" cause of the 49ers loss was Mark Roman's epic fail on that final play.  However, much of the discussion in the recap threads centered on one of the more "indirect" causes of yesterday's loss (if you want to refer to it as that): the conservative play-calling of the offense.

I think Sando set it up well yesterday evening as one of his Key Issues in the NFC West:

Are the 49ers far too conservative in their offensive play calling? Did that cost them against the Vikings? Or are they simply establishing their identity while avoiding the mistakes that hurt them so badly last season?

After the jump I've got my own thoughts on aspects of the offense, but I'd like to focus the conversation in here (as opposed to multiple FanPosts).  After the game somebody (I think it was Singletary but I'm not positive) said something along the lines of how people wouldn't be complaining about the offensive play-calling if the team had won.  It's safe to say that would not be the case.  People would certainly be focusing on the positives, but I know at least here at Niners Nation, folks would definitely have still had plenty to say about the offensive negatives.

We'll take a look at some areas on offense that have caused problems, and other areas that could provide solutions.

Rushing Attack
The biggest issue remains the way the offense utilizes running plays.  That halfback dive up the middle or off guard is fine, but as many have said, why not mix things up with more stretch and sweep type plays?  Given some of the offensive line struggles and the fact that Frank Gore is likely out at least a week, if not more, maybe it's time to mix up the running plays.

This is by far the most frustrating aspect of the offense.  It honestly seems like they run one play with some slight variations.  Basically, the team lines up in an I-formation and sends Josh Morgan in motion.  Morgan stops and faces perpendicular to either the left or right tackle.  Have the 49ers ever passed after that kind of motion?  I'd be happy to double-check, but I'd bet good money they haven't.

It's perfectly fine to want to force the rushing game and build around that.  Even if they know you're going to rush against you, I can see why you want to build that attack.  At the same time, wouldn't it be perfectly logical to actually try different rushing plays?  At least keep the defense off guard in that sense.

Vernon Davis
One area that most everybody can agree on as being an improvement was the utilization of Vernon Davis.  Davis gets a lot of crap for dropping balls and some of his pointless celebrations, but I think it's safe to say he's one tough S.O.B.  I state that not just because he had one good game.  Rather, he's shown a willingness to go into the proverbial danger zone, over the middle of the field.  More importantly, he's shown an ability to go up in traffic and bring down big receptions even with multiple defenders covering him.  I really enjoy watching him make the type of catch we saw on his second touchdown.  He went up above the two defenders, brought the ball down, and held on even as he was getting popped by both guys.

People will complain about how he should have been doing that all along, but for this thread I'm just going to applaud Vernon for his fantastic efforts.  It's entirely possible this game was just an aberration and folks will go back to being frustrated by Davis.  At the same time, given the loss of Frank Gore, it's entirely possible Jimmy Raye recognizes Davis' abilities and will work him even further into the game plan.  Hey, a man can hope can't he?

Quarterback
Shaun Hill stepped up yet again in the 4th quarter.  I've had my questions about Hill, but he seems to have a sense for the moment and an ability to generate big drives.  Whether folks call him clutch, or whatever, he has shown a knack for stepping up in the fourth quarter (now if only we could see that in the third quarter).

What I find a bit odd is the way the team has utilized him, or in reality NOT utilized him, after some of these big drives.  I understand wanting to run out the clock, but there really has to be a better way than 3 carries, a cloud of dust and a punt.  I actually had a random idea that I know would never be used, but I'd just like to throw out there:

Say you've run twice and it's now 3rd and 5 or 6.  Given the fact that team's do actually pay scouts and get film of their opponents, other teams are probably getting to the point of abandoning any semblance of a pass defense on those kinds of late drives.  The first obvious choice is to mix in play action on that 3rd down play.  Of course, Jimmy Raye seems to only be inclined to use play action once a game (the first play of the game I believe), so that's out the window.  So why not have Shaun Hill take the snap and drop back and then if nothing is open either run forward and slide or have a running back to dump it off too?  Or heck, just take a knee if really want to.

I realize Jimmy Raye's running play could conceivably gain that first down, but it hasn't yet.  And when you haven't converted a single third down without the help of a penalty, maybe it's time to try something new.  Or maybe Jimmy Raye just thought they were due!

Conclusions
No matter how much of an optimist you are, you have to admit that the offensive woes would appear to be something the team will be contending with for much of the season.  Or at the very least, one might argue they'll be dealing with this until they fix the play-calling.  Or maybe the optimists would argue the play-calling is fine and things are just slowly developing.  I really have no idea.

Either way, as always I think there is some good and bad to be drawn from the offensive woes of yesterday.  I really do wonder if Raye will look to the Hill-Davis connection a little more frequently in these next couple of games while Gore is on the shelf.  Obviously our beloved OC will be looking to force the rushing attack.  However, maybe some adjustment will actually be made to push the ball down field with a little more frequency.  For now I'm not gonna hold my breath.