While the 49ers offensive philosophy is built around power rushing, the team opens the door to a wide variety of schemes and game plans within that broader philosophy. The team mixes up their formations and personnel packages week in and week out, as they game plan against their opponents' weaknesses and for the 49ers own strengths.
Amidst all the discussion about the QB position, and the concerns some have about the team's opportunities in 2012, I continually drift back to the idea that the coaching staff is working to figure out exactly what they want to do with all these new pieces. The addition of Colin Kaepernick as starting quarterback and LaMIchael James as backup running back has put the staff in a position where they need to figure out how they can mix and match these parts.
This idea scares some people, which is quite understandable. The 49ers got to the NFC Championship Game with a specific philosophy, and had gotten off to a 6-2 start this season. Although there was clearly downside to this philosophy, the upside was the idea of there being a certain steadiness to it.
This past week, the 49ers added some further wrinkles against the Miami Dolphins, or at least expanded upon some previous wrinkles. The game saw the prominent introduction of what some call the Diamond formation, others simply call the full-house Pistol, and LaMichael James referred to as a "bug eye formation." It's safe to say we'll be sticking with "bug eye formation" as our descriptor moving forward!
Earlier today, I took a look at the game film in order to assess the volume of different types of formations. This isn't an all-22 deep analysis breakdown, but rather some basic numbers I came across while reviewing the 49ers offensive formations.
- The 49ers ran 17 plays from the bug eye formation
- The 49ers ran 13 plays from traditional shotgun
- The 49ers 23 plays with Kaepernick under center
- The 49ers ran zero traditional pistol formations (featuring a running back behind the QB, but no other running backs)
- The 49ers ran three plays in the victory formation
On these 17 plays, excluding penalty yards, the 49ers gained 133 yards and a touchdown. It is worth noting that 50 yards and the touchdown came on Kaepernick's read option run late in the game. From the bug eye formation, the 49ers ran six read option plays. Of those six plays, Colin Kaepernick kept the ball three times, rushing for 5, 2 and 50 yards. The six read option plays were weighted by four such plays coming on that final touchdown drive.
The 49ers ran six passing plays from this formation. Colin Kaepernick was 5 of 6 on those passes for 40 yards with his one incompletion coming on an overthrow to Michael Crabtree near the goal line.
I didn't have time to get information on specific down and distance, but for now simply wanted to provide a basic rundown of the 49ers use of the bug eye formation. Given the way the 49ers mix and match personnel packages, I would not be surprised to see this formation significantly less. I do think we'll see some of it because of the read option capabilities of Colin Kaepernick and LaMIchael James. The 49ers sold the read option quite a bit even without seeing Kaepernick option to himself frequently, and it paid off late with the big run. The timing of that play was pretty perfect given the expectation that the 49ers were simply going to run up the middle to run some clock.
The 49ers have an offensive identity, but that does not mean they can't make some pretty sizable tweaks to their weekly looks. While I do think we'll see some of the read option, I am more interested to see how the 49ers elect to attack the Patriots secondary. The Patriots pass defense has been their Achilles heel, but adding Aqib Talib in recent weeks could be a pretty big deal for them.
The 49ers coaching staff has at times been a bit inconsistent in game-planning this season. Sometimes they are entirely spot-on, with the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers games being pretty good examples of this. However, there are other times where you wonder how the coaching staff spent the week of preparations. The Dolphins game did show an ability to make some halftime adjustments, but it would be nice to have a more consistent Plan A from time to time. We'll see what that means for Sunday against the Patriots.