When a local media member asked 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh what kind of work the 49ers coaching staff needed to get done during their bye this week the answer was simple, "Preparation for upcoming opponents and self-scout and there will be players that will come in and we'll be available to those players."
Let's focus on what the 49ers might find when they do their self-scouting.
It has been clear since the 2011 draft that Jim Harbaugh wanted to open the offense up. With their second round draft pick the 49ers selected Colin Kaepernick who had broken NCAA records running the pistol spread offense at Nevada. Two picks later they selected running back Kendall Hunter who had been successful running out of the spread offense at Oklahoma State. They followed that with the selection of Daniel Kilgore from Appalachian State, another spread offense.
Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh followed this up by drafting LaMichael James, and Joe Looney in 2012, Vance McDonald, Marcus Lattimore, Quinton Patton in 2013 and Carlos Hyde, Brandon Thomas, Bruce Ellington and Trey Millard in 2014. The common theme among all of these players is that they spent their collegiate careers in the spread offense.
With the foundation that has been built it was only a matter of time before the 49ers were going to open up the offense. There have been glimpses over the past few seasons, but this year we have seen a major change. In 2013 the 49ers were near the bottom of the league in the use of 11 personnel, 1 running back and 1 tight end, utilizing it roughly twenty five percent of the time. The 49ers almost never ran a play without a tight end, yet this season has seen the 49ers come out in 5 wide often.
As the 49ers coaches begin to do their self-scout they should start by taking a look at their balance when in 11 or 10 personnel. So far they have run 42.5%, or 211 of their 496 offensive plays out of these personnel groups. As the 49ers coaches go over the film and their call sheets they will find that they are very unbalanced when employing these groups, with passing plays being called 78% of the time, compared to only 56% of the time when in all other personnel groups.
The coaches should also find that so far they have been very successful when running the ball from 11 and 10 personnel. The 49ers big three: Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde and Colin Kaepernick have averaged 4.6 yards per carry with two touchdowns when running the ball out of their 11 and 10 personnel groups. When running the ball out of their other groups such as 21, 22, or 12 the big three have averaged nearly a full yard less per carry, 3.8, with only one touchdown.
The success the 49ers have found running from the spread is simple to explain, fewer defenders are in the box. Defensive coordinators often base their personnel off the personnel that the offense puts onto the field, and as a result when the 49ers go into 11 or 10 the defense is usually taking a linebacker off the field. This will typically leave the defense with only six men in the box giving the 49ers a numbers advantage for their run game.
Gore from 11 personnel vs St Louis
Gore from 11 personnel vs Denver
When the 49ers come out in their 21, 22, or 12 personnel they often face a loaded box. This often will put the offense at a disadvantage in the running game because there are too many defenders to account for.
Gore from 12 personnel vs St Louis
Gore from 21 personnel vs Denver
As the 49ers get set to open the second half of their season next week it will be interesting to see if their self-scouting has changed the way Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh approach their play calling from the spread offense. Based on the information available they would be well served to move towards a slightly more balanced approach.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: October 27, 2014 at 10:58 PM
Comment: Why Not Us? That was the slogan of the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks last year. Every morning I wake up is a blessing.... and the first thing I say is "Why Me?" That's why we are winners. We ask the right questions. Which leads me to point, I'm trying to make. For the last three years, Niner Nation has screamed "Whose Got It Better Than Us?" And for the last three years I have yelled back "NOOOOOOOOBODY". Last week some asshole asked me "Whose Got It Better Than Us?" I don't want anyone asking me that question anymore?
Date: October 26, 2014 at 1:26 PM
Comment: Which is why I still don't understand the release of an explosive weapon like James. Instead of employing him on screens or isolated out in space we chose to drill pass protection and hitting the hole hard on simple draw plays. He was never going to be a proto typical nfl rb, nor did the brass draft him for that.....yet that was the strategy implemented. A fail on baalkes part, and a bigger flop on the coaching staff. However, it does speak to me that lj hasn't been picked up...not even by chip.
Date: October 25, 2014 at 3:40 PM
Comment: Jack, thanks for the breakdown. I appreciate the work you do to provide us with a balanced view of what happens down on the field and a bit of what the FO has done to build the team. Keep up the good work!
By: richard jeong
Date: October 25, 2014 at 8:27 AM
Comment: like 11 personnel,don"t like 12 personnel
Date: October 25, 2014 at 7:58 AM
Comment: Why is gore crab an V Davis not getting the ball if you remember they the key to it all everybody else is jut to make them better but its looking Roman is calling playing to get everybody else open
Date: October 25, 2014 at 4:34 AM
Comment: You know just because you've learn to write music doesn't mean you can conduct a beautiful symphony. 49ers run a lot of elaborate schemes that defenses just don't react to anymore in the run game. They simply wait til the QB is under center and attack the direction of the fullback or pulling lineman. We can still sit at home and know what play is coming from our couches because there are still no screens, not many reverses, you never see Hyde and Gore on the field together as run pass options out of the backfield. These guys are going from southpaw to Mayweather with their personnel (run heavy to pass happy) nothing in between.
Date: October 24, 2014 at 5:13 PM
Comment: Sorry, I wasn't clear. I meant that by passing so much out of the spread formation, teams have adjusted in the 2nd half which has caused an issue for the success of the offense in the 2nd half of games where they have used spread a lot.
Date: October 24, 2014 at 4:26 PM
Comment: That lack of balance between run and pass out of spread formations has been an issue for them in the 2nd half of games where they have used the spread heavily. In the 2nd half of those games the Ds have pinned their ears back getting after Kaep, and Kaep has struggled finding and hitting open receivers. That is an area they really need to work on and bring some balance to.
Date: October 24, 2014 at 2:42 PM
Comment: Jack good work as always. I have a thought though. Couldn't the success of the running game out of 11 and 10 personnel be attributed to the fact that they are somewhat of "surprise" or gimmick plays like draws or counters? I remember in the read option a few years back Frank had a tougher time adjusting because he wanted to hit the hole 100 mph while LMJ was more used to it from oregon and seemed to be smoother running it.
Date: October 24, 2014 at 2:34 PM
Comment: Great article, Jack, but it may be a little deep for Roman...
Date: October 24, 2014 at 2:30 PM
Comment: Strong write up Hammer. How do you think the addition of Marcus Martin might aid in this balancing act?