San Francisco 49ers: Could a Radical Offensive Change Spark a Win Streak?
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If ever the San Francisco 49ers needed a win, it was Week 6 of the 2010 season at home against the Oakland Raiders.
The hype usually surrounding the Battle of the Bay was muted this year, owing largely to a pedestrian start by the Raiders and dismal start by the 49ers. Still, a win was important.
The 49ers were coming off back to back devastating losses, trying to overcome a plethora of off-field issues, and trying to avoid their worst start since 1979, a year in which they finished 2-14. The 49ers' president and acting owner, Jed York, had steadfastly reiterated his prediction of a division crown after the previous week's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles dropped them to 0-5. An 0-6 start would have all-but required the 49ers to win out to reach the postseason.
The 49ers did manage their first win of the season, scoring 14 second-half points in a 17-9 win which extended their regular season winning streak over the Raiders to three and tied the all-time Battle of the Bay series at six games apiece. They finally managed to protect the ball, finishing plus-two in turnovers for the game, and Frank Gore finally broke a long run, capping a 149-yard day. The defense even played well, holding Oakland to under 200 yards and only nine points.
After the game, the team was loose for the first time since preseason, and the 49ers' official website declared they were "ready to roll."
Problem solved, right?
The 49ers looked just as bad as ever through the majority of the game and really only played well through about seven minutes of the second half.
While they finished 2-0 in the take away department, it could easily have been 2-2 or worse, as at least two passing attempts yielded interception opportunities for the Raiders.
Gore finally broke a long run, but he averaged modest gains for most of the game against a bottom-five rushing defense. The offense was anemic and predictable through most of the game, posting fewer than 60 yards prior to the closing drive in the first half.
The 49ers continually hampered their own efforts, racking up 143 yards in penalties, often of the sloppy and undisciplined variety.
The defense held the Raiders to nine points but allowed a Bruce Gradkowski-less offense to dominate pace and possession.
This effort wound up being good enough to beat the Raiders and may be enough to best the winless Carolina Panthers next week, but against tougher competition, it is bound to fall short.
After winning with little authority or credibility, are the 49ers really poised for a playoff push? After all, the last time they won even a mere three games in a row was nearly half a decade ago (2006). Even after getting off the proverbial schneid, is this season already a foregone conclusion?
Possibly, unless the 49ers make some significant changes.
The 49ers made the right move a month ago, parting with Jimmy Raye, and the offense has improved under new coordinator Mike Johnson. The problem is the rate of improvement has been far too slow, and most of the game plan still looks very much the like stubborn brand of between the tackle ball control offense that failed so utterly under Raye.
Mike Singletary is a good head coach and an incredible motivator. The fact that the 49ers have competed at all in several games this year given the off-field issues that "fans" and media alike did their best to grossly exaggerate proves that out. However, his stubborn insistence on a simple, run based offense has undoubtedly hurt the team.
The simple fact is that the 49ers' roster is not set up to play this style of game. Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Alex Smith, David Carr and Troy Smith should not equate to a steady diet of off-guard plunges. This offense was built to spread the field and attack with balance.
Experience has born this out. The entire offense, Alex Smith included, looks much better running a shot-gun based, no-huddle spread attack. Some of that is due to the situation in which this offense generally gets used, but a lot of it is the skill sets of the personnel.
If the 49ers are serious about reviving this season, why not play to their strengths and employ the no-huddle spread from the outset? Few teams have done so with much success, but some have.
Jim Kelly led the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990's running the K-Gun, and the make-up of the 49er offense is not all that much different. Furthermore, the success of the K-Gun proves such a style is not mutually exclusive to big rushing production. Ever heard of Thurman Thomas?
Going to such an approach could be the spark the offense needs to get going, or it could fall flat. But it makes a lot more sense than using Alex Smith, David Carr or Troy Smith to lead an offensive system none of them are suited for. Defense and physicality do not need to equal bland and predictable offense.
Of course no offensive revamp will help the 49ers if they cannot control the mistakes that have plagued them thus far in terms of penalties and turnovers, but it could be one less thing to worry about.
At this point the 49ers would be remiss not to explore all their options.
Keep the Faith!
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