Friday, September 28, 2012

The Case of the Missing Shot

In the wake of the 49ers' first loss of the 2012 season there has been a lot of discussion regarding the lack of deep throws this season.  Much of this discussion stems from the new weapons that were acquired during the offseason including Randy Moss, and Mario Manningham, 2 WR's known for their ability to stretch the defense.

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman have a ball control philosophy on offense, and generally choose to work underneath combination routes based on concepts from the West Coast Offense.  They manufacture their down field "shot" plays based off play action or a specific matchup advantage.

In reviewing the coaches film of the first three games this is what I found.  In their week 1 matchup with Green Bay, Roman called 36 pass plays, 6 of which were "Shot" plays (16.7%).  Although none of those calls resulted in a deep throw, 4 of those "shot" calls resulted in a positive result for the offense, and the 2 that did not resulted in a quick sack by Charles Woodson, and an incompletion to Vernon Davis.

The following week against Detroit, Roman again called 36 pass plays, with 7 of those calls being of the "Shot" variety (19.4%).  Against the Lions, the 49ers hit paydirt with one of these plays when Alex Smith hit Vernon Davis with a 21 yard TD pass.  Of the remaining 6 "Shots" that were called 2 resulted in positive short gains when the deep throw was well covered, 1 was an incompletion on a deep corner route to Davis, 1 resulted in a Bruce Miller drop and the other 2 resulted in sacks.

This past week saw a Roman increase the number of pass plays called to 41, with "Shot" plays accounting for only 2 of those calls (4.8%).  Neither of the calls resulted in a deep throw by Smith.

Why would Roman try to go downfield, especially when trailing the entire game?

The answer is very simple, and can be summed up with a quote from his Thursday press conference, "If they're going to play way off, then it's probably not in your best interest to just throw a punt to them."

As a result of playing with the lead the Vikings were able to sit in a soft 2 Deep and 3 Deep shell, daring the 49ers to beat them underneath and work their way back into the game.  They effectively took the deep opportunity away, and the 49ers offense responded poorly by missing 2 potential TD's in the Red Zone, and making too many mistakes to overcome a very good defensive performance by Minnesota.  The good news for the 49ers is it is only week 3, and there is a lot of football left.

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