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Jim Harbaugh and the lack of 49ers success early in games

The San Francisco 49ers struggled early in games this season, is Jim Harbaugh the issue?


There are so many things that went wrong against the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl. Colin Kaepernick got off to a slow start, Donte Whitner had the worst half of the season, Chris Culliver was consistently beat from start to finish, Randy Moss didn't care to go after balls, Anthony Davis got mauled on the right side, Justin Smith was totally neutralized and Ahmad Brooks apparently didn't get his filling of offsides penalties during the regular season.

But amid all of those issues on the field, there was another problem: the coaching.

Most agree that the play-calling was so-so throughout the game. Read option plays were working well, and then the 49ers would abandon them. They routinely played it safe on third down with draw plays from the shotgun formation. Then there's the end of the game, which was truly awful, but we're going to focus on the beginning of the game.

Defensively, there were breakdowns, sure, but the 49ers were obviously doing something wrong from a play-calling perspective. On offense, they never had a chance. After the first half, the 49ers trailed the Ravens by a score of 21-6.

To put it simply: the 49ers looked unprepared. They looked as though they didn't belong in the same league as the Ravens, and this is actually a trend, for the playoffs at least. For how much of a football "evil genius" that Jim Harbaugh is, he has his team severely under-prepared a few times this season.

San Francisco had to complete comebacks against the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round and the Atlanta Falcons in the championship round. Just how bad were they in the regular season, though?

As it happens - not bad at all. The 49ers out-scored their opposition by a margin of 71-40 in first quarters throughout the regular season. But San Francisco was so bad in the first quarter in the playoffs, that number goes to 77-71 in their favor when added to the regular season numbers. Yes, they were out-scored by a margin of 31-6 in first quarters in the playoffs.

Let's dig a little deeper and look at the first drives this season. On the 49ers' opening drive, they put points on the board three times in 19 games this year. They had two touchdowns and a field goal. Both touchdowns came when the 49ers were the second team to receive the ball, which means that they only scored three points in the regular season and the playoffs on their opening drive when they received the opening kickoff.

Three points.

They had seven 3-and-outs, 14 punts altogether and had one interception - which was returned for a touchdown by the Packers in the divisional round. These are all opening drive stats. To make it more visual, I'll listen them in order below.

From week one onward: punt, touchdown, punt, punt, punt, missed field goal, punt, punt, punt, made field goal, punt, punt, punt, touchdown, punt, punt, pick six, punt, punt.

I think it's safe to say, without a shadow of a doubt, that Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman are not good at scripting the first offensive drive. They had two weeks to prepare for the Ravens and they were forced to punt it. There weren't any weird scheduling quirks this season like there was in the season before it, so there's no excuse.

Obviously, we love Harbaugh and he's been great for us so far. But I don't know if it's the pressure, stress or whatever it is, but he seems to struggle with his gameplans out of the gate. Of course, the 49ers have been very good at making halftime adjustments, but we saw on Sunday that doing what the 49ers have been doing all season is not a recipe for success every time out, especially in the playoffs.