Mike Singletary, San Francisco 49ers Head Coach.
It’s just weird isn’t it?
Who could have predicted such a pairing? The 49ers with all of the offensive innovation they became known for when Bill Walsh was running the team.
And Singletary—a Hall of Fame middle linebacker whose playing career was spent trying to stop that offense.
It’s a delicious scenario when you think about it. Imagine how this story is going to play out if he succeeds in bringing the team back to championship caliber football. The NFL; the TV networks; they are all rooting for this to happen because of the great stories it will produce.
But in order for this to happen there has to be change.
Singletary has been part of the defensive staff of the 49ers for four years now so don’t expect major changes to come on the defensive side of the ball. The defensive coaching staff has remained mostly intact (Vantz Singletary is the new Inside Linebackers Coach).
The core personnel are the same with some added depth. The theme here is staying the course and continue getting better at executing the philosophy.
So it has to be the offense that brings about the change that will allow the 49ers to climb back into the upper echelon of the NFL.
Here are four areas the 2009 San Francisco 49ers offense needs to be better to have a chance of making the playoffs.
Taking Care Of The Football
This is No. 1 on the list by a large margin. In 2008 the 49ers finished dead last in the league for total turnovers (35) and tied for last with Denver for Turnover to Takeaway ratio (-17).
The good news is there is no chance they will not be better at this in 2009 and here is why.
First, Shaun Hill will be running the offense from the outset. Making good decisions related to taking care of the football is arguably his strongest asset. He also does a great job managing the game which goes hand in hand with protecting the ball.
Even if Alex Smith were to play QB the team cannot help but do better in this category because they will not be running Mike Martz’s high risk/high reward offense—which always produces a high number of turnovers.
The offense will be predicated on exploiting mismatches in personnel to score points and not taking unnecessary chances with the ball.
Running Down The Clock
While it is yet to be seen exactly what the 49er offense will look like, its safe to say they will not be a high scoring team.
Therefore they will need to do a better job of getting a lead, counting on their defense to keep that lead and running down the game clock to minimize their opponent’s opportunities to score.
The 49ers have not been able to sustain clock killing drives to close out games when they need to.
To be more successful in this area the 49ers have done three things.
The first is put an emphasis on dominant, physical offensive line play to convert a higher percentage of 3rd and 3 scenarios. They rebuilt the right side of their offensive line, inserting physical guard Chilo Rachal at guard and signing Marvel Smith to play tackle.
The second is draft pick RB Glen Coffee, who they believe has the ability to gain tough yards between the tackles. Singletary will not hesitate to spell Frank Gore when he sees the need and having Coffee along with Michael Robinson gives him three backs who can take the physical beating that comes with a power running game.
The third is bringing back FB Moran Norris at Gore’s strong urging. Don’t discount the impact this will have on the running game. Gore is on record as being ecstatic about his return.
Keeping The Defense Honest
The 2009 offense needs to do a better job of making opponents account for the down field passing game, thereby keeping extra defenders from loading the “box”
In recent years teams have been able to cover the 49ers wide receivers one on one down the field allowing the safeties to cheat up and help stop the run. The 49ers have not been good enough in the passing game to make teams pay when they do this.
Now they should be.
The 49ers wide receiver unit this year is more talented and deeper than they have been for a long time. They have Isaac Bruce who showed last year he still has the ability to get open in a seam and make big catches for first downs.
Rookie Josh Morgan showed an ability to get open downfield with consistency something the offense has not been able to do. Third year receiver Jason Hill had 30 catches last year while seeing his first significant playing time.
And I haven’t even mentioned Michael Crabtree.
Brandon Jones, who they brought in as a free agent, Arnaz Battle, Dominique Ziegler—unless there are injuries someone is not going to make their roster that is good enough to play significantly for other teams.
And they are deep enough to sustain a few injuries and still be a quality unit.
Vernon Davis Must Have His Best Year Catching The Ball
Vernon Davis should be thankful every day for Mike Singletary.
Davis has been an excellent blocking TE but only average as a receiver. He has yet to reach his potential as a big physical speedster that creates match up nightmares for opponents.
Singletary was able to get through to Davis in a way that helped him start reaching that potential AND endeared Singletary to the rest of the locker room at the same time.
This is a contract year for Davis. Expect him to have his best year by far receiving the ball and a huge factor in opening up the middle of the field for a more successful running game.
The media likes to focus on Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, having a run oriented ball control offense.
In reality, if the 2009 49er offense can show improvement in these four areas, they will strike a balance on offense that should bring about the different results necessary to compete for a playoff spot this season.