When the San Francisco 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh to be their head coach in 2011, expectations went through the roof. During his time at the collegiate level, Harbaugh established himself as an offensive genius that was always the smartest man in the room.
His offensive creativity and unbelievable win percentage were two of his most coveted traits. The 49ers were in desperate need of wins and offensive artistry after San Francisco collected 27 losses in the three seasons prior.
As soon as Harbaugh took over, the Niners immediately transformed into a NFL powerhouse. Their defense entrenched themselves as a top-five unit while their offense pounded the rock and controlled the clock.
From the very beginning of the Harbaugh era, Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore has been the centerpiece of offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s offense.
In 2011 and 2012, Gore combined for 2,425 rushing yards on 540 carries. Additionally, the nine-year veteran found the end zone 16 times while averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
Apparently, all good things must come to an end.
Through the first three games of the 2013 season, Gore has only touched the ball 46 times. San Francisco’s run-heavy attack has fallen by the wayside in favor of a pass-heavy attack.
Coach Harbaugh is asking less of the running game and more of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the passing game.
Yes, Kaepernick and his wide receiving corps put on a show during the playoffs last year, but Gore kept opposing defenses guessing. He was the one who forced defenses to stack the box, which made life easier for San Francisco’s aerial assault.
Additionally, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the 49ers had the most efficient run-blocking offensive line in 2012. Left tackle Joe Staley graded out with the highest run-blocking grade at his position while guards Mike Iupati and Alex Boone finished second and third at their respective positions.
This makes the Niners' move to a pass-heavy attack that much more of a head-scratcher.
Furthermore, Roman’s offense has been snakebitten at the wide receiver position. Outside of Anquan Boldin, this team lacks productive and experienced pass-catchers.
Kyle Williams, Quinton Patton, Marlon Moore and Kassim Osgood haven’t exactly instilled fear in the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts. Those four players have combined for 10 receptions and 93 yards receiving in 2013.
It’s safe to say the return of Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham can’t come soon enough.
However, all of the blame shouldn’t fall on the receivers. This past Sunday against the Colts, the 49ers proved that they could successfully run the ball without top-notch wideouts.
In the first half, they averaged 7.5 yards a carry and kept the game within arm’s reach. Then, in the second half, Harbaugh and Roman completely abandoned the ground game and forced Kaepernick to shoulder the load for the final two quarters.
The strategic move backfired and the Colts went on to score 17 unanswered points to win in convincing fashion.
San Francisco’s second-half meltdown didn’t sit well with Gore. Kevin Lynch of SFGate.com tweeted that Gore voiced his displeasure with Harbaugh toward the end of the game.
With emotions running high, Gore had every right to be upset with his head coach. He has essentially become the forgotten man in the 49ers offense. This isn’t the first time Harbaugh and Roman gave up on the run when down one score. They did it last year versus the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants.
The only difference is they corrected their mistakes following a loss in 2012. They didn’t correct their mistakes after the Seahawks game in Week 2.
For the second time in as many games, Gore was the odd man out when he should have been the focal point of the offense.
Will Gore continue to be abandoned on a weekly basis or will Harbaugh reel Roman in? That is the million-dollar question from here on out.
Dylan DeSimone of Bleacher Report wonders if Harbaugh will make the ultimate power move and take the play-calling duties away from Roman.
Would the change make a monumental difference?
A change wouldn’t be the worst idea, but Roman has displayed the smarts to make the right play calls before. The whole key to being successful is getting back to doing what is best for the team. Call the plays that hone in on and accentuate the strengths of the 49ers offense.
As soon as the Niners start doing this, Gore will no longer be an afterthought. He will be the prized possession and San Francisco will return to normalcy.
In-game adjustments are one of the most underrated keys to prospering in the NFL.
Football is a psychological chess match where the odds vary on a play-by-play basis. Roman and the rest of the 49ers’ coaching staff have to keep that in mind. One bad call shouldn’t spell the end, it should inspire them to refocus and adapt.
Expect to see a heavy dose of Gore and Hunter on Thursday Night Football. The Rams have a formidable pass rush and just surrendered 175 yards rushing to DeMarco Murrary.
If this doesn’t happen, fans and media members alike will further question Harbaugh and Roman.
Moreover, another convincing loss could hamper the 49ers' ability to capture their sixth Lombardi Trophy.