A Balanced Attack: How Jimmy Raye Shapes the 49ers' Offense
The common wisdom from most fans and commentators is that the 49ers are going to run the ball non stop next year. Mike Singletary has been associated with hard nose football all his life and he even said that his philosophy was "more run to pass...to run a little more than pass."
After the hiring of Jimmy Raye, after an extensive search and at least one publicly declined offer, everyone seemed to take away that the 49ers are going to run the ball on virtually every down. Hyperbole? Maybe, but also not far from the truth.
The draft only encouraged this perspective when the 49ers spent two draft picks on the run game: Glen Coffee to spell Frank Gore and Bear Pascoe to be a blocking specialist for the run game. But to me, and a small group of people, this run only approach does not pass the smell test (no pun intended).
I look at what Singletary said and see another possible interpretation: He wants to be able to run the ball when everyone knows they are going to run the ball. He does not want to need six attempts from within the three yard line to score one touchdown (see 2006 game vs. the Eagles).
He wants to run the ball successfully when up two scores on an opponent (see 2008 game vs. the Eagles). He wants to be able to get a first down or two to run out the clock at the end of the game, even when the opponent knows it's a run.
Singletary claimed he wanted to be like Bill Walsh's offense "but with a different mindset." I do not doubt he'll run the ball more, but Walsh loved to run, too. He just did it when he had built a lead.
Super Bowl XVI was won, in part, because the 49ers were able to kill seven of the final ten minutes by running the ball (with the help of an interception by Eric Wright).
Before the interception, while up only six points, they gained 28 yards on the ground over seven plays to move from their own 49 to Cincinatti's 23, placing Wersching in position to put the 49ers up by two scores (23-14) with 5 minutes to play.
It's called imposing your will on a Defense, something the 49ers have had a tough time doing in recent years. The 49ers rarely seem to get that push up front that tells you that, if they need a yard in a do or die situation , they will get that yard (see: Week 10 at Arizona). For Singletary, that is unacceptable.
In Jimmy Raye, Singletary found a guy known for using the personnel he has and playing to it's strengths. While Eric Dickerson gained nearly 4000 yards on the ground under Raye (3913), numerous quarterbacks have thrown for over 3000 yards under Raye, including Elvis Grbac. In those two seasons Tony Gonzales combined for over 2000 yards receiving.
I am not intimating that Vernon Davis will hit those sort of numbers, but I am suggesting that Raye seems to be quite good at utilizing a player's strengths. He will make sure Davis is in position to catch the ball as his frame would allow (not acrobatically as he's not known for his flexibility).
Gore is expected to be running straight ahead, which has always been his strength. He's not a speed demon and tosses to him almost always seem to get strung out nicely by opposing linebackers.
Gore is far better following his lead blocker and taking any amount of daylight he can and getting as many yards as he can out of it. He is great at chipping away three, four, five yards on those runs up the gut and has a high tendency to break one up the middle for long gains into the secondary as he did frequently in 2006.
While I do not doubt that the 49ers will happily use Gore and his new backfield compadres regularly, it would be criminally negligent to ignore the suddenly potent receiving corps the 49ers have assembled.
Josh Morgan, Jason Hill, and Michael Crabtree are all young talents whose presence in practice and prior performances on the field will demand playing time and touches.
Add to that the aging veteran Isaac Bruce who had a knack for being in the right place to make big plays and the money invested in Brandon Jones, to say nothing of well liked long-shots Arnaz Battle and Dominique Ziegler, and the 49ers will need to get the ball in the air to justify the money tied to the position.
Those seven guys seem to posses ample talent and skill. Then there is Vernon Davis, who is approaching the crossroads this year and must make the leap to the next level. I think he will surprise many and silence his critics this year as he seems to have thrived under Singletary.
I also have a gut feeling that, if they do throw him the ball, Bear Pascoe might surprise you with his hands.
Yes, the 49ers will run the ball this next year, and probably more than they did under Mike Martz. But, just because Singletary says he wants to be able to run against an eight-man front does not mean he wants to subjugate his running backs to that fate every down.
This will not be an offense that ignores the pass. More likely, it will utilize shorter routes to play to likely-starter Shaun Hill's strengths, and, in the end, it will be almost exactly the type of offense Singletary called for back at the season's end: One that will "have a balance, 50-50."
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