I had this awful dream last night.
Naturally, the setting was the 2012 playoffs. (I'm not any more interesting when I'm asleep, you see.) Due to a series of ironic twists—and despite those dastardly Football Fates—the Niners had earned a second chance. Hosting the NFC championship game. Facing the Giants. And leading, late.
It'd been another tough, defensive struggle. Colin Kaepernick had thrown for one score and run for another, and David Akers had tacked on a 30-yard field goal (though he'd missed two more from 45). With 1:47 to go in the game—my dreams are pretty detailed, you see—the Niners were up, 17-16. And they had the ball, third-and-one at their own 29. The Giants had only one timeout left.
Surely you can do the math. Convert here, and we're off to the Super Bowl.
Needless to say, the excitement was keen. After letting this same chance graze off our legs and slip through our hands, we were about to put those demons to rest. We were about to set off for New Orleans, and with only the New York Jets waiting there—they'd snuck into the playoffs and nipped the Broncos for the AFC crown, with Tim Tebow scoring the winning TD—Ring #6 was just about bagged.
All we needed was third-and-one.
But then the excitement started to wane. At first there was merely a mild concern. It grew, though, dramatically—until it bloomed into full-blown panic.
Off the bench came Daniel Kilgore. No.
He was followed by Leonard Davis. Dear God, no!
And those two were joined by Will Tukuafu. Sweet mother of mercy, no!!!
But yes. Greg Roman had elected to go with our famed "jumbo package." The short-yardage group with an extra half-ton of hefty manpower. Every time it makes an appearance, the goofy broadcasters faint and swoon, marveling at the display of old-school brawn they're about to behold. They never go on to notice, though—and evidently neither does Roman—that the package hardly ever works.
And so, despite the fact that Jim Harbaugh had tapped Kaepernick for his ability to do simply anything
in a playbook—despite the fact that a fake halfback-dive and QB end-around would be absolutely unstoppable here—Roman was going old-school again. It's not like he'd never tried out any tricks, but those tricks had sometimes led to mistakes. (That second Rams game came to mind.) So now with Ring #6 on the line, he'd do precisely what Jimmy Raye would: he'd line up and make it a question of toughness.
Still mostly asleep, I started to mutter. "Harbaugh... Kill this play... Call timeout...." But then I realized that the last real price of Kaepernick's inexperience—his sluggish management of huddle and line—had already cost us our final timeout. Kaepernick took his place under center, no fewer than 10 Giants loading the box. There'd be no "kill" or even a "roll"; this was the play, no ifs ands or buts. Kaepernick took the snap and turned....
And then I woke up, screaming.
I don't think you need a psychology degree to figure this one out. Sure, last Sunday the jumbos failed once again, and I think they oughta be mothballed for good. But I think it goes much deeper than that.
Since Kaepernick's aerial circus destroyed Chicago, the explosiveness has dipped a bit. It's not entirely Smithy again: Kaepernick made plenty of big plays against the Saints; and even against the Rams and Fins, he made some huge throws both caught and dropped (not to mention two 50-yard runs). Indeed, if Randy Moss, despite interference, is able to hang onto a 60-yard bomb placed right in his hands, we're probably not having this discussion at all.
I still insist: if you want an explosive dual threat, you won't find anyone better than this.
But an explosive threat doesn't necessarily mean an explosive O. On this point, there's no stat more telling than deep-throw percentage. Kaepernick, who after Chicago ranked third, is now down to twelfth, at 20.9. Ranking aside, that's still pretty good; he's just ahead of Aaron Rodgers, and he's way
ahead of Brady and Brees. But the trend has been dropping, and not surprisingly, so has our offensive rhythm and flow.
Of course, several factors account for this. First, opposing Ds are starting to guard against the deep ball, often giving us crazy cushions for underneath routes, which Kaepernick is wisely exploiting. Second, injuries to the receivers haven't helped; fewer deep weapons means fewer deep passes. Third, the O-line's pass-blocking is still a bit spotty, and you can't throw deep if you don't have time.
You can't control those things. But here's what you can, and it's worth discussing once again.
You can control your philosophy.
As the jumbos' regular appearances show, Roman, at heart, is still the "running game coordinator" that he was at Stanford. He's not averse to the passing game—after all, he did
call the Chicago game—but if he were truly a pass-enthusiast, he wouldn't go into the shells that he does. He was totally spooked against the Rams, and against Miami he ran on second-and-7, second-and-7, second-and-10, second-and-16, second-and-10, and second-and-12. Some of those plays worked out okay—welcome aboard, LaMichael James—but that's not the point. The percentages say that runs on those downs will lead to third downs, which the percentages say will lead to punts.
Here's another way to put it. If you're a passing team, even one that strives for balance, you pass on those downs. And if you want to win the Super Bowl—and if your QB is Kaepernick—you should be a passing team.
More throws means more deep throws, which, in turn, means more explosiveness.
now, I've been begging for a restoration of the Niners' glorious identity, a philosophy of ingenious aggression. That's why Harbaugh—a Walsh disciple who lacks nothing in either ingenuity or aggressiveness—is such a perfect coach for us. And sure enough, both last year and this, we've seen quick bursts of that identity, but it hasn't quite been enough to take hold.
That's why Harbaugh went with Kaepernick. To instill that identity for good, at last. Yeah, we'll do some ground-and-pound; any great offense needs that capacity. But to intimidate
opposing Ds—as Harbaugh clearly wants to do—Kaepernick must be unleashed.
Harbaugh, though, doesn't call the plays. And though Roman has deserved the praise he's received for his running-game wrinkles, he needs to adjust to his greatest weapon. Sure, he should make some allowances for Kaepernick's inexperience. But the playoffs are coming—the next two weeks will feel like they're already here—and it's time to see what this baby can do.
"There's nothing I'd like to do more than drop back and do irresponsible things every play," Roman said this preseason, dubiously. "But it's more fun winning."
Tell you what, Greg. Let's try being a little less responsible.
Or we might be in for some nightmares to come.
Date: December 15, 2012 at 1:53 PM
Comment: regarding tomorrows game. I hope they come out with a sense of urgency and aggressiveness. They are behind to begin with and they need to play catch-up before the crowd gets involved. Or do they expect to win a tight typically called game. It will be tougher than a $2 steak in the fourth quarter with the home crowd delirious and drowning out their play calling on the line of scrimmage. They need to start wild man monster river boat gambler style in the beginning. Or I see doom on the horizon. It is in the beginning where they must win or lose. Let the pats have to play catch-up. Use the ground game in the fourth quarter ala Walsh. Strike early and often.
By: The Most Interesting Man In The World
Date: December 12, 2012 at 6:10 PM
Comment: Don't ask yourself the meaning of life. I have the answer and it's not that interesting. Ask yourself what the hell you are doing with your life. And then ask yourself, what am I going to do next? Yes, the afterlife, my friends. I've been there and then decided, No. Not Yet. Be kind to squirrels, my friends. I will be playing with my nuts one day. And I know you will too. Sing with me, Whitney Houston! Cause Your Nuts are my Nuts. And My Nuts are your Nuts. It would take an eternity to Break Us. (Should I be concerned about me?)
Date: December 12, 2012 at 5:19 PM
Comment: I am wondering, if the play of the offensive line and play calling would turn Rodgers and Brady into another version of A.S., what the heck is going on here. Did Brady do better than Smith against the Giants? How about Rodgers his 2 times out? Brees? Has anyone beat up on the Giants defense? They are the common denominator.
By: Terry B.
Date: December 12, 2012 at 8:41 AM
Comment: Ceadderman, "Kappy" is doing EXACTLY what Smith had done? Please. "Kappy" has made throws that Smith has never made and, indeed, that Smith does not even attempt. "How soon we've forgotten that Roman tried unsuccessfully for 2 games to have our Starter air it out." Because our starter was Alex. And now we're supposed to believe that our opponents' strategy at the beginning of the season was to take away the deep threat of Alex Smith? What? Our offense looked better against the Bears than it had in years, and there's only one reason: our starter was CK, and we were successfully having our starter air it out.
Date: December 12, 2012 at 4:55 AM
Comment: Going to Kappy didn't do anything to improve the Offense at all. He's doing EXACTLY what Smith had done and Jeff Garcia before him. Tuck the ball and run with it to keep the chains moving. The one thing that fans don't wish to see. The only reason fans are applauding Kappy is that he's a 2nd year player. Making excuses for him seems more palatable than acknowledging that Smith was not the issue and probably never was. How soon we've forgotten that Roman tried unsuccessfully for 2 games to have our Starter air it out. Unsuccessfully using Moss to draw coverage from Davis. Unsuccessfully implementing a downfield Passing attack. Unsuccessfully stepping away from the strength of the Offense. That being the Rushing game. Smith can throw the ball downfield too. Our Opponents decided before they play against us to limit that threat. Covering Davis and shadowing him with a Safety to keep him quiet. Where is the counter play that should be run to give Davis more opportunities? Why can't Roman call a delayed TE handoff pitch or toss to draw the secondary up closer to the Line of Scrimmage and give Davis a better opportunity? A play that can be run by either Smith or Kappy? TE waggle?
Date: December 11, 2012 at 10:37 PM
Comment: Greg Roman can't call long pass plays unless Kaepernick can stay in the pocket. I feel a need to repeat, it's the offensive line. If they have a good game opening holes and giving Kaepernick time to throw the long pass, to a receiver who's had enough time to actually go deep, the 49ers will win. If the line plays like it did vs. Miami they lose.
By: Randy Cross
Date: December 11, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Comment: People got excited about the Bears at the wrong thing.
It wasn't the QB that you should be excited about, it was the OLINE. Go watch that game again. Do you know how long the QB had to look and throw. Even after he threw the ball there was NOBODY within 5 yards of him. For heavens sake even Steve Young right out of the broadcast booth would have completed those throws.
I kept telling everybody that but nobody can see beyond the completion. Everybody saw the completion but didn't know why it was completed. They saw the obvious reason, it must be the QB. Nevermind there were 9 in the box (Yes, I counted). Nevermind that our OLINE stopped cold all of the blitzes. Nevermind that for the first time in 1 1/2 years our WRs won their 1 on 1 battles (which after that game, never happened again).
You guys always make me laugh too when you say CK should be unleashed... More deep throws... You know maybe they do call it every other passing play. But Kaep elected to check down. YES CHECK DOWN! Nobody is open. What, you think he "CAN THROW THE WR OPEN"? Please somebody face reality in front of you - our OLINE is not built for pass protecting and our WRs don't know how to get open.
Date: December 11, 2012 at 7:45 PM
Comment: Jeff, I love the article. First off I have to say I totally agree that if we are going to play this type of offense we might as well have Smith in there. During the Bears game and the Saints game I was thrilled to watch our offense. I was waiting for the next perfect pass down the field. The last two weeks have seemed eerily close to a Jimmy Raye offense. The offense has gone back to pretty boring aside from a couple cute runs by the QB. The playcalling is very cautious all the way around and I have a theory. Jim Harbaugh is a lot of things, stupid is NOT one of them. This we know. My theory is that with his new "toy" in at QB he has dialed it back so he doesn't give the genius Belichick too much on tape. He thought we could get by those last two games playing the same cautious boring game. Plenty of people are to blame for the Rams game. In foxboro I think we will see things we havent seen. Shots down the field. That HAS to be the plan VS the pats or we will lose. If we dont open up the book this week we will lose hard, and maybe harbaugh proves me wrong and he is an idiot. I really don't think he is though, this game should be GOOD!
Date: December 11, 2012 at 7:30 PM
Comment: I had a dream last night too... I couldn't figure it out at first. Something felt odd... and then I realized I was actually Tom Brady and I kept getting toppled; just after I threw the ball and sacked just the same with ball in hand. Most plays it was hard to discern just what was happening, but then I realized that SF must have made some adjustments in the defensive backfield which enabled the front line to go to work. I mean my choice receivers were getting upended almost every play. And, again and again all I could see were the Smith 'brothers' up in my grill. I suddenly became demoralized midway through the 3rd quarter and no longer had the will to throw the ball, let alone win. It took me 3 minutes to get fully upright after the last sack; with 2 interceptions and a fumble on the night I decided to lean heavily on the run which led us to a couple missed field goals and several punts. At game end, I shed a tear, but not because we lost 42-13 to my favorite team the 49ers, but because I wish I was wearing one of those gold helmets. I was Tom Brady on Sunday and it was scary! GO NINERS!
By: Lucky Phil
Date: December 11, 2012 at 6:06 PM
Comment: I Have A Dream...I May Not Get There With....Yeah, I'm gonna get there with yah. Niners Win BIG in New England Sunday Night! Here's why. Big players come up big in the big game. And Kap is a big time player. Yeah, I know what youre saying, "What about Brady?" Brady blew his load on Monday night, he's not gonna blow his load on us. To quote the great Denzel, "King Kong Ain't Got Shit On Me!". And thats how the Niners are gonna approach this game sunday night. Niners stop Brady cold, Kap explodes in the first half, Gore takes over the 2nd half. And if JH/RO don't fuck up the game plan, we win big 34-13. Strong passing attack in the first half, throw the car keys to Kap just like we did against Chicago. 2nd half mix the run and the pass to burn the clock. Keep the ball from Brady in 2nd half and we win by 3 td's. What do you say, Jeff? Ignore my previous post, short on time and I had to delete half of what I wrote. (Jeff you really need to add some characters to our comment block.)
Date: December 11, 2012 at 1:12 PM
Comment: This scenario happened with Michael Vick and the Eagles. The line complained that Vick's mobility hurt their ability to block correctly and maintain any cohesion. They said they never knew when he was going to break out, run, or roll out to extend the play so penalties, angst, and protection blew up in their face.
Date: December 11, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Comment: yes the playcalling seems to be a bit bashful with a macho blend. Does the O-line practice pass blocking enough? We have now what someone referred to as the Alex version of offense. I find fault with Roman's comment about "irresponsible things" as it shows a lack of confidence in the long forward pass, a beautiful element of the game. Just winning at a beautiful endeavor is sacrilegious. Kap throws a beautiful long ball if you haven't noticed. Relish the journey. Yes those are dopey calls. Have we passed off of those formations?
Date: December 11, 2012 at 11:11 AM
Comment: "But the trend has been dropping, and not surprisingly, so has our offensive rhythm and flow." Oh you mean the rhythm and flow that allowed them to beat the Jets and Bills by a combined score of 79-3? Or maybe the one that gave them an NFL record 300 yards rushing and passing against the Bills, was it that rhythm and flow? I forget who was the QB in those games. Just another long ball whore.
Date: December 11, 2012 at 10:44 AM
Comment: Started out wondering why the hell I was reading this. Ended up enjoying the piece. I don't get it either. Why play a kid like Kaepernick but not use him for what he can do. Coaches need to put the players into position to succeed and use their talents to better the team. Greg Roman has struggled with both of those. That needs to change with two very tough games coming up and the playoffs on the horizon.
Date: December 11, 2012 at 10:27 AM
Comment: Did Kaep have breasts?
By: Lucky Phil
Date: December 11, 2012 at 10:22 AM
Comment: Our D. Best In League. Running game Best In League. But here's the difference from last yr. Not getting TO's and Akers is not MVP. Akers was a machine last yr. He's human this year. What's surprising is the lack of TO's. Aldon is having a destructive 2nd half. However, the DBs are not jumping coverages, getting INT's, and taking advantage of all the QB hurries AS is creating. Our Special Ed. teams are not winning the field position battle. Punt 50 yds, move ball 20 yds, go to Mr. MVP (last yr). This team is much improved on D and O yet this team does not control the game like last yr. Now, we can blame special teams for a part of this. We should have lost the 1st gm to the Rams because of our Special Ed, but why did we lose the 2nd? It's coaching! This team is moving from a very conservative O to an aggressive one and we still haven't made the transition. And if you want just one example of that, look back to the last play of the 1st half of the Rams (1st) game. We are on our own 30 yd. line with 4 sec left in the half, Kap drops back looking to throw a bomb to Moss. If Smith is in the game with 2 MIN. -- run out the clock. Risk vs. Reward! Outcoached by Fish, losing to Rams Un-Acceptable!
Date: December 11, 2012 at 9:43 AM
Comment: I disagree about passing on 2-7 etc. Look no further than the Saints, Lions, Eagles, Chargers, and early on the Packers. Failed passes on 2nd and long produce INT's on 3rd down. We need to be better on first down, more passes to the RBs out of the backfield to create short 3rd downs. Teams that get pass happy don't win.
Date: December 11, 2012 at 9:38 AM
Comment: Oh, so now it's playcalling and Kaepernick "wisely" exploiting routes underneath.
Date: December 11, 2012 at 9:28 AM
Comment: My hope is that - should your dream scenario occur - the team will roll out the jumbo package and then either toss to an eligible lineman (i.e. 2011's team) or let CK7 run off tackle. Roman has shown a tendency for this sort of trickery.
Date: December 11, 2012 at 9:15 AM
Comment: The O-line play has not been (just) "spotty", it's been deficient.
The holes for the inside run have (mostly) closed, and the pass protection has been weak. The main reason they're winning (barely) is the defense and Kaepernick's threat of the run.
Manningham and Hunter amount to a very big loss in the 49ers' ability to keep opposing defenses honest. Hopefully Jenkins and James can fulfill their draft status in a big hurry.
Date: December 11, 2012 at 8:34 AM
Comment: I couldn't agree more with this article. If we wanted safe playcalling that mostly works with the talent the Niners have, but won't win them a Super Bowl, why not stick with Alex. The Niners moved to K to open it up and make it explosive, but have failed to do that. I just hope that they don't wait until they are behind against New England to open it up, because by then it will be too late.
By: Paul A.
Date: December 11, 2012 at 8:28 AM
The hard reality is, this team this year is the dream come true for Nolan. Built by Nolan, run by Harbaugh. Manning saw what's here and did not want to be part of this smashmouth team. Makes no difference who is the QB. Now that is the nightmare come true...
Date: December 11, 2012 at 8:28 AM
Comment: Jeff I fully understand! Although I don't think they should completely abandon the jumbo package they could have much more fun with it that's for sure. With Walker and Davis in that formation you have passing options still so why not use them every once in a while.
Date: December 11, 2012 at 8:08 AM
Comment: You're going to get your wish against the Patriots. The Niners will fall behind eventually and be forced to abandon the run. We'll then see how explosive Kaep is against the eventual AFC Champions.
Date: December 11, 2012 at 7:27 AM
Comment: Lay off the pain pills before going to bed.
Date: December 11, 2012 at 7:17 AM
Comment: You're basing the 49ers' playcalling on a dream you had? Bro, you really need to stop going to bed angry... It leads to nightmares, lol. Seriously though, changing your negative outlook can do wonders. By the way, to make you feel better, never has a dream that a fan posted about ever come to pass. Not one! So let's get back to reality, shall we?