Predicting the Next Evolution Within the San Francisco 49ers Offense

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Predicting the Next Evolution Within the San Francisco 49ers Offense
Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

Staying ahead of the curve, from a cerebral aspect, has guided the San Francisco 49ers offense back to relevance, but it's not quite there yet.

When people look back five years from now, the 2012-2014 seasons will be viewed as the early developmental stages of coach Jim Harbaugh’s sublime NFL offense. For those who haven't kept up, it has been one of the most tantalizing restoration projects in pro sports. 

Let’s get to know the players, including what they’ve done, what they’re doing and what they have in store.

First off, this offense runs through three key people: head coach Jim Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and general manager Trent Baalke. By drafting for an offense predicated on their distinct formula, it is what they make it. And the positional coaches will do their best to optimize execution.

They’ve done very well so far.

Obviously it’s a unit that’s come a long way since the dog days of 2010, and the dumpster fire that preceded that.

While inspiring at times, the direction of the offense is a bit of a cliffhanger, as the 49ers are drifting further into uncharted waters. This former dink-and-dunk offense is seeing players age out or sign with other teams, while new faces with dissimilar skill sets have entered the lineup.

This so-called West Coast offshoot is now something else entirely.

“I don’t know if there really is a prototypical West Coast offense in the NFL anymore,” Sports Illustrated’s Robert Klemko said about the 49ers offense, via Niner Talk Central. “I think most teams are starting to look like what Pep Hamiliton brought to the Colts, which is called a ‘No Coast.’”

“It’s really just a hybrid of everything else,” Klemko added.

And you can see it with the 49ers in particular, a team that has long been mislabeled as a West Coast offense, is actually becoming its own unique hybrid. They’ve taken deliberate strides, veering from that fundamental approach, which was more prevalent in 2011. And truth be told, it’s showing now more than ever.

Higher percentage passes have been replaced with more attempts down the field. The ball is not out quick.

In a WCO, where three-, five- and seven-stop drops are critical, as well as going through progressions, it does seem odd that the 49ers would draft and integrate a quarterback that did not fit that mold of a pro-style quarterback. One whose footwork and capacity to see the field seems to constantly be in question.

Unless, of course, there was a plan to reconstruct the offense around him. 

Also, in Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh’s West Coast attack, of which many components you still see today across the league, throwing to the tailbacks was essential. The receiving productivity from the backs dropped off the proverbial cliff when Harbaugh installed his system.

Granted, the 49ers have since had two 1,000-yard receivers since, breaking a decade-long spell, which actually helps to reinforce our point later.

But it’s kind of as if we were just told that Harbaugh runs a West Coast offense and accepted it without giving it a second thought. His M.O. at Stanford is not necessarily what he’s doing in San Francisco. So if the 49ers aren’t the Cardinal 2.0, what are they? And what are they striving to be?

It’s time to reevaluate the offense, what it really is and what it’s becoming.


Statistics courtesy of, unless specified otherwise. 

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