Thursday, December 6, 2012

"The sky is falling"

In the aftermath of the 49ers first loss since October 14 on Sunday, the fan message boards have been flooded with fans doing their best imitations of Chicken Little.  A common sentiment is, "Coach Harbaugh should not have made this switch.  We were cruising along to a 6th Super Bowl championship and now all of that has been ruined."

The other interesting take is that a lot of the same arguments that were brought up about the 49ers offense after the loss to New York have resurfaced, starting with the questioning of offensive coordinator Greg Roman's abilities to call plays.

Let's take a look at the Chicken Little reference first.  The loss to St Louis was a tough one, in that the defense dominated for almost the entire game.  They probably would have snuck out of St Louis with a 10-2 victory had Colin Kaepernick muffed a pitch deep in 49ers territory which allowed the Rams to tie the game.  I know Kaepernick then put the team back in position to win, only to have the defense allow a game tying field goal, aided by a Dashon Goldson unnecessary roughness penalty, and then in field goal range for a game winning attempt by David Akers in overtime.  The truth is the turnovers hurt the team.

All is not lost though, and the end of the season is not imminent.  Instead the 49ers left St Louis in exactly the same place they found themselves when they came in.  They are still sitting in the #2 position for playoff seeding, and leading the NFC West.

Now on to Greg Roman and the 49ers offense.  The 49ers feature the 11th ranked offense in the NFL in total yards per game. They are 1 of only 3 teams that average 6 or more yards per play.  In short, this offense is pretty good.

That is not to mean that they won't have their struggles.  This is an offense that is built to run.  Just about everything they do is predicated on the fact that they are going to run the ball well.  There most explosive personnel grouping is 22, 2 tight ends and 2 running backs.  The reason for this is that it allows them the ability to run, and play action off of that.

This offense is going to struggle if the opponent can stop the run with it's front 7 and not have to commit a safety to the box.  The Giants, and Rams are prime examples of this, and each has an element that does not match up well with the 49ers offense.  They have quick, strong defensive lines that are able to beat the 49ers linemen to the point of attack and blow up running plays before the have a chance to develop.

The question going forward is, how does Greg Roman and the 49ers offensive staff adjust.  The first adjustment was made when they replaced Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick.  Kaepernick has almost immediately improved the 49ers 3rd down conversion rate.  A big reason for the improvement in this area is Kaepernick's willingness and ability to take the second level throw.  For example, the 15 yard out pass to Michael Crabtree between 2 St Louis defenders to start the possession immediately following his botched pitch attempt.

Those type of throws open up the playbook.  Now you can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally.  In his 3 starts Kaepernick has completed 13 passes of 20 yards or more.  Compare that to the 22 that Smith had over his first 8 starts this year, and it is an improvement of almost 2 per game.

Take the big arm, and add in the speed to take a scramble 50 yards at any time, not to mention the leadership qualities Kaepernick provides and you start to get an idea of why the switch was made.

The sky is not falling, it is actually starting to shine.  

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