Offensive coordinator Greg Roman talks with Frank Gore
The San Francisco 49ers' defense is championship caliber; however, the offense has struggled, and with a record of 6-4, the 49ers are in danger of missing the playoffs.
The standard rationale for the 49ers' struggles on offense start with the lack of effective wide receivers. Anquan Boldin has been the only productive wide receiver for the 49ers with 47 catches for 630 yards and three touchdowns.
With Kyle Williams released after making 12 catches on the season, Mario Manningham's four receptions is second on the list of the 49ers' active players. The 49ers' passing game has only two reliable weapons, Boldin and Vernon Davis, who has 34 catches.
Undoubtedly, this has hindered quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers' offense; however, to blame the 49ers' offensive struggles on the lack of quality receivers fails to understand the deeper issues.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is on the hot seat based on the poor performance of the offense.
In addition, Kaepernick has regressed this season, and Roman, along with head coach Jim Harbaugh, is at least partially to blame.
In taking a deeper look at the 49ers' offensive struggles, we must first look at the decisions Roman has made with Kaepernick and the 49ers' offense.
Jim Harbaugh has had several frustrating moments this season.
The San Francisco 49ers routinely waste two or three timeouts in virtually every game. In some cases, Harbaugh challenges officials' calls that ultimately are not reversed.
The more concerning issue deals with Roman and the time it takes for Kaepernick to get the plays called.
Kaepernick is no longer a rookie and has worked with Roman long enough to still have the problems they have with the clock running down. This is especially noticeable when Kaepernick changes the play at the line-of-scrimmage.
The 49ers often barely get the play off before a delay of game penalty is called. Frequently, they are forced to call a timeout to avoid the five-yard penalty.
This problem is something that should not be as prevalent this late in the season. Roman needs to get the plays to Kaepernick faster, enabling him to make the audible and adjust when he needs to.
The lack of urgency in getting the plays called quickly results in the 49ers wasting timeouts, and there is no excuse for that.
Mobility is one of Colin Kaepernick's greatest assets.
Keeping Colin Kaepernick in the pocket at all times reduces his effectiveness. It is very surprising that offensive coordinator Greg Roman does not employ more roll-outs and moving pockets for Kaepernick.
Against the Saints, the first designed roll action occurred in the third quarter and resulted in a touchdown pass from Kaepernick to Vernon Davis. It is not a coincidence, but inexplicably, the 49ers rarely utilized this approach for the rest of the game.
The 49ers' offensive line has had trouble with the opposing pass rush in each of the past two games. Instead of keeping Kaepernick in the pocket, roll-outs would give him a run-pass option. In addition, he can buy more time away from the pass rush, allowing his receivers a better chance to get open.
The failure of Roman to employ this tactic has hindered the 49ers' offense.
Kendall Hunter should be utilized more out of the backfield.
Poor play-calling cost the 49ers a victory in the Super Bowl last season. The Ravens' defense was clearly exhausted, and the 49ers had the ball inside the 10-yard line.
Frank Gore was punishing the Ravens' defense, yet with the 49ers poised to score, Roman decided to call multiple pass plays. There was no way the Ravens were going to be able to stop Gore, so by getting cute, Roman cost the 49ers a golden opportunity.
Roman has a tendency to go away from the running game far too often. This was a major reason behind the loss to the Indianapolis Colts earlier in the 2013 season. Gore was having a big day, but the 49ers moved away from what could have led to a successful game.
For some reason, there is also a complete disdain for the screen pass. When an offensive line is having trouble with a defensive front, the screen is a way to keep that pass rush at bay.
The 49ers rarely employ the flare pass to the backs or a checkdown, which can get positive yardage when the alternative is trying to force the ball into coverage.
With Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James, a simple flare pass can turn into a big gainer, as Hunter and James have the elusiveness to make big plays in the open field. Combined, Hunter and James have only three catches on the year.
Against the Saints, the 49ers rarely tried to throw the ball down the field. The offense consisted of short passes and a largely ineffective running game. There were even times when the Saints dared the 49ers to throw a deeper route with nine defenders in the box.
Even the use of the read-option just a few times per game will give the defense another thing they must prepare and be ready for.
Play-calling is an art, and Roman has lost it far too often. The 49ers' offense has become far too predictable this year.
Vernon Davis leads the 49ers with eight touchdowns.
The 49ers are sixth in the league in scoring touchdowns once in the red zone, at 61.29 percent. Although relatively high in terms of league ranking, the 49ers can still be much better. The league leader in this category is Denver, at more than 79 percent efficiency.
These stats are courtesy of teamrankings.com.
When the 49ers get into the red zone, the field shrinks and this makes it tougher for the receivers to get open. The 49ers' receivers already have trouble getting open, and the tighter coverage makes it even more difficult.
The lack of roll-outs and run-pass option plays for Kaepernick in the red zone is a glaring weakness that goes back to play calling.
These types of plays put enormous pressure on the defense and are very difficult to stop. Steve Young and Joe Montana excelled at the quick roll-out and flag-pattern pass to the likes of Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Brent Jones and Terrell Owens.
If the defense took that pass away, the quarterback could frequently waltz into the end zone for the touchdown.
Colin Kaepernick's biggest asset, his running ability, is under utilized.
The San Francisco 49ers have the worst passing offense in the league. They average only 168 yards-per-game, the lowest in the league. Their completion rate of 56.3 percent ranks 30th out of 32 teams. Stats are courtesy of NFL.com.
Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh are to blame for this. Since Harbaugh is not likely to be fired any time soon, it's Roman's butt on the hot seat.
Colin Kaepernick has regressed this season, and the main reason is because Roman and Harbaugh are so afraid of him getting hurt that they have taken away what he does best.
Kaepernick's biggest asset as a quarterback is his legs and his running ability; however, Roman and Harbaugh have drilled it into his head to stay in the pocket and avoid running unless there is no other alternative.
In reality, Kaepernick has just as much of a chance of getting hurt standing in the pocket as he does on the run. Defensive linemen know where he'll be, and he can get blind-sided or have someone roll-up on his knee when he's planted throwing the football.
When Kaepernick is out of the pocket on the run, he can dictate if and how he takes a hit. Defenders rarely get good hits on Kaepernick because of his speed and his ability to take a glancing blow, slide down, or run out of bounds.
By taking away Kaepernick's running, Roman and Harbaugh are not utilizing his skills optimally. They are putting shackles on him, which has caused Kaepernick to lose his confidence and the swagger he played with last year.
With a record of 6-4, the 49ers are in a precarious position to even make the playoffs. With such an outstanding defense, this is a travesty. There is only one reason for this, and it's because they have self-imposed a limit on Kaepernick's skill set.
It's time Roman and Harbaugh unleash Kaepernick and let him utilize his running ability. Playing afraid will get you beat, and the tentativeness we see in Kaepernick is the result.
If Roman has any chance of revitalizing the 49ers' offense, it's absolutely critical that they take the handcuffs off and let Kaepernick be Kaepernick.