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Maybe Mooch was onto something. Maybe the "West Coast Offense" should really be the "Ram It Down Your Face Offense." Either way, it looks like the 49ers need to decide if they are going to discard the history of the last quarter century and create a new incarnation of the San Francisco Forty Niners.
The dominating win over the Tampa Bay Bucs was not impressive simply because of the fact that the 49ers beat the defending Super Bowl champions. The game was surprising because of how they won. The 49ers dominated the game with a rushing attack that would make Bill Cowher envious. The 49ers played four quarters of smash-mouth football and racked up 212 yards on 41 attempts. Forty-one attempts! The 49ers were not themselves. They were some reincarnation of the 1954 San Francisco team that averaged 5.65 yards per rush on the season. Or maybe they were the 1977 Oakland Raider team that rushed for an NFL record 681 times. One thing is for sure - the 49ers were not the finesse, west coast, wine and cheese team that we all grew up watching.
The offense seemed to hit the ground running. The first two plays, both runs by Garrison Hearst, churned out six yards apiece. Beasley was allowed to do what he does best, block. For all of Beasley's strengths, he isn't more than a short yardage runner and a blocker. Erickson noticed this and put in more two-back sets. The duo of Hearst and Beasley looked like the duo that led the league in rushing during the 1998 and 1999 season.
Does that mean that the 49ers are going to be a junior version of the Carolina Panthers?
I hope not. The Panthers are one-dimensional. Nothing could have exposed this more than the thrashing they took at the hands of the Titans. Forced to come from behind, the Panthers crumbled.
What the 49ers must do is force teams to play their game. Perhaps Erickson should listen to Tyrone Wheatley, that "other" teams' running back. In Monday night's loss, Wheatley could be seen telling second-string quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo to "play [his] game." The 49ers game is now to smash the ball at the opponent with reckless abandon.
Its no secret what the run game can do. It was on display in San Francisco as Garcia audibled more times than he's been ridiculed for his squeaky voice. Single coverage on the outside? Audible. Quick screen to Streets. Touchdown. Eight men in the box? Audible. Deep pass to Owens. Touchduh - I mean...uhhh...incomplete pass.
This team was always defined by its offense. Now it seems like the defense dictates the win loss record. So many seasons the porous defenses were covered up by the explosive offense. The defense would allow 28 points. But Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, and Garrison Hearst would put up 35.
In an era where the offense is averaging less than 23 points a game (they only average 18.3 points per game without the 49 point game against the Bears) the defense must create the identity. On Sunday, the 49er defense forced four turnovers against a team that had just four turnovers on the season. The defense sacked Brad Johnson twice, and pressured him countless times. Rumph is playing to his potential, intercepting one pass, forcing a fumble, and holding the loud-mouthed Keyshawn Johnson to one catch for 4-yards. This team can only get better with the return of a healthy Jason Webster.
This new bay area incarnation is made up of the fifth-ranked defense (leading the league in sacks), the fourth-ranked rushing attack (averaging about one carry less per game than Carolina), and the seventeenth-ranked passing attack (based on yards per game) needs to realize where the strength of the team is. The 49ers have found their identity, and it's not the "same old, same old."
No longer can this team simply dominate with the accuracy of the quarterback. No longer can the offense carry the defense when offenses rack up 28 points. This team is facing an identity crisis. Do they take the blue pill and go back to their bubble, endlessly trying to fill Bill Walsh's size "four Super Bowl" shoes? Or do they take the red pill and see how far the rabbit hole goes? The pill should be an easy one to swallow.