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Analysis: 2011 49ers vs. 2013 49ers, and why are we faltering?

I know there is tremendous debate going on about the plethora of problems we've been facing this year, and consequentially I see a lot of bickering, finger-pointing, and fighting all over the place about a variety of issues, but none more prevalent than the issue of QB play (is anyone surprised?). Nothing will change the fact that our former QB, Alex Smith is on another team. We have who we have, and Colin Kaepernick has struggled. There is no way around that fact. That's the simple truth. The not-so-simple truth achieved here though is this one question: WHY? Many individuals have thrown out every reason in the book for it, but unsurprisingly, it's something we've all heard before. Are these excuses? Or are they reasons? -- The answer lies somewhere in between, but I want to touch on what I feel is something important to consider before you make any firm decisions.


"EXCUSE": We are losing games because there is no one to throw to and the OL can't protect.

First, take a look at the 2011 49ers team, as far as the cast we had:
QB Alex Smith
RB Frank Gore / Kendall Hunter / Anthony Dixon / Moran Norris / Bruce Miller
WR Crabtree / Morgan* / Braylon Edwards* / K.Williams / B.Swain / T.Ginn* / Joe Hastings
TE Vernon / Delanie
OL Staley / Iupati / Goodwin / Snyder / A.Davis
Notes* Morgan went on IR after week 5, and Braylon was hurt early on, and cut after week 10. Ginn got hurt in the playoffs.

Then, look at what we have had for the 2013 49ers team:
QB Colin Kaepernick
RB Frank Gore / Kendall Hunter / Anthony Dixon / LaMichael James / Bruce Miller
WR Anquan Boldin / Mario Manningham* / Kyle Williams* / Jon Baldwin* / Quinton Patton* / Kassim Osgood / Crabtree*
TE Vernon / Vance McDonald
OL Staley / Iupati / Goodwin / Boone / A.Davis
Notes* Mario didn't play until mid-season, Williams was cut after week 10, Baldwin didn't play until week 4, Patton's been hurt since week 4. Crabtree's on PUP

Looking at the rosters, the receivers that started the most games in each year respectively were: Crabtree/Williams/Ginn in 2011, and Boldin/Williams in 2013. The other primary difference is Delanie in 2011, and Vance McDonald in 2013. The overall difference in collective talent between the two groups is minimal, but slightly in favor of 2011. However, the talent and performance of the offensive line in 2011 is slightly worse than the 2013 group. Frank Gore is still running well, and the defense has been outstanding this year statistically. Both of those were the case in 2011 as well so those variables are not under scrutiny. Here are the primary stats that I think we should look at:

2011 (16 games)
Turnovers: 10
Sacks allowed: 44 (including a FRANCHISE RECORD NINE TIMES on Thanksgiving vs. Baltimore)
Snaps taken under center: 804
Snaps taken in shotgun: 314
4th quarter passer rating: 92.7

2013 (10 games)
Turnovers: 15
Sacks allowed: 24 (on pace for about 38 sacks)
Snaps taken under center: 305
Snaps taken in shotgun: 291
4th quarter passer rating: 39.6

What is my point in all this? In 2011, we had atrocious weapons and our line couldn't block. But our defense played well. Despite the record, people still also complained about terrible calls by Greg Roman. This year we have all the same things occurring. We won 13 games in 2011 and were 4-1 against winning teams. This year, we're 6-4 and are 1-4 against winning teams. What's the big difference-maker in all this? Turnovers and timely plays on offense in the 4th quarter. We've barely passed mid-season and we've already passed the 2011 turnover mark, yet have no offensive jump statistically to compensate for that. 4th quarter passing has been abysmal and there has been little confidence in our ability to make a comeback for even a field goal when we trail late. This makes us even easier to attack.

CONCLUSIONS:
1. We lack and/or do not utilize team speed on offense. Even a slight boost in weapons would help us; if we can at least get as good or a little better weapons than we had in 2011 we could do a lot more on offense
2. The biggest improvement needed is QB play. There are too many turnovers being committed -- better decisions need to be made. When a QB is not seeing things that are right in front of him or making the decision that seems to be the obvious choice, 99% of the time it's because of one of this: he's thinking, not looking. (Ever been so engrossed in thought that although your eyes are open, you're not really actually seeing what's in front of you? That is what I'm talking about).

What I believe happened: I think the league adjusted to the pistol/read-option scheme to the point where it cannot be the primary focus of our attack anymore. Essentially, we are starting over almost completely from scratch with Kaepernick, and he's practically becoming a rookie all over again as he is forced to learn to play NFL-style QB in this league. He's THINKING instead of using instincts because HE HAS NO INSTINCTS developed yet. He looks like a rookie because he has had to start from square one in a massive amount of areas. This is why he looks so lost and so horrendous out there a lot of times. THIS is why Roman was quoted saying that Colin "still [has] the element of 'I'm seeing this for the first time'.." hindering him.

What I think we should expect: I believe the 49ers are going to have a rough road ahead in terms of the passing offense, and it might not be until late next season before we see legitimate, consistent improvement there. Sure, it may be sooner, but based on what our situation seems to be right now, I would not be surprised if it took that long, or even longer. Our defense and running game will help carry us for the most part and will likely do the majority of the work for us in winning games, but personally, I'd say we should expect things to stay really, really rough passing-wise at the VERY LEAST until playoff time at the absolute earliest (which I know we all hope is when it starts to click).
[ Edited by OnTheClock on Nov 21, 2013 at 9:02 PM ]
I think you nailed it. Biggest problem is that we lack team speed on offense. When our QB has nobody to throw the ball too, it's hard to win ball games.
In 2011, they wouldn't have flagged Ahmad Brooks. We had a ton of close wins that year. It's a game of inches. 2011 was a soft schedule.

Oh ya, guess who STILL has a higher quarterback rating? One guess. Can you guess?
Originally posted by BrianGO:
In 2011, they wouldn't have flagged Ahmad Brooks. We had a ton of close wins that year. It's a game of inches. 2011 was a soft schedule.

Oh ya, guess who STILL has a higher quarterback rating? One guess. Can you guess?

This isn't about the two QB's overall season QB ratings. It's about why our offense and QB have looked the way they have. CK is struggling, but people need to understand why. We're all upset about it, but we need to accept what is likely the case for WHY the things that are happening are happening.
2011 on Offense-Not much has changed besides teams adopting to the pre-snap shifting and motion. Where teams looked utterly confused at times during that season, they adapted and it really isn't an issue for them anymore. The offense early on in that season utilized a lot of WCO concepts, the playcalling was a breath of fresh air but slowly began to die out and I started seeing some of the same questionable playcalling that people have been picking up on lately, the passing offense struggled at key moments, the running game was solid and effective.

Defense-The entire DL regressed from 2011 to 2012. Justin Smith is still one of the best 3-4 DE's in the NFL but he's not playing close to the same level as he did in 2011, he was utterly on another level, just playing insane. That 2nd half against the Giants in the NFC Championship game was some of the most beastly play I've seen from any DL....ever. Soap actually had a solid season and then has played like garbage ever since. McDonald has been effective when healthy, and that is starting to become a big "when." Just like Smith, he's not playing close to the level he was at in 2011. Beyond that, Carlos Rogers in the secondary has fallen off, otherwise the 49ers are still getting very good play in spite of the team lacking a pass rush overall.



Basically, the 49ers need to integrate Carradine and hopefully they add another DE relatively early to replace Dobbs and provide strong injury insurance in case McDonald gets hurt yet again. A strong, athletic and dominant front 7 is what makes this defense tick.


I'd like to see a pure, run-stopping NT added, a young player that they can develop over time since both Williams and Dorsey are on short term contracts.


They will need a CB to replace Brown but Whitner has played well enough and deserves to be re-signed assuming his demands are reasonable, otherwise strong safety becomes another need in the draft, in addition to depth at safety overall. Dahl has been good on special teams but he's been lit up a few times playing in the secondary, don't have a lot of faith in him.
Originally posted by Phoenix49ers:
2011 on Offense-Not much has changed besides teams adopting to the pre-snap shifting and motion. Where teams looked utterly confused at times during that season, they adapted and it really isn't an issue for them anymore. The offense early on in that season utilized a lot of WCO concepts, the playcalling was a breath of fresh air but slowly began to die out and I started seeing some of the same questionable playcalling that people have been picking up on lately, the passing offense struggled at key moments, the running game was solid and effective.

Defense-The entire DL regressed from 2011 to 2012. Justin Smith is still one of the best 3-4 DE's in the NFL but he's not playing close to the same level as he did in 2011, he was utterly on another level, just playing insane. That 2nd half against the Giants in the NFC Championship game was some of the most beastly play I've seen from any DL....ever. Soap actually had a solid season and then has played like garbage ever since. McDonald has been effective when healthy, and that is starting to become a big "when." Just like Smith, he's not playing close to the level he was at in 2011. Beyond that, Carlos Rogers in the secondary has fallen off, otherwise the 49ers are still getting very good play in spite of the team lacking a pass rush overall.



Basically, the 49ers need to integrate Carradine and hopefully they add another DE relatively early to replace Dobbs and provide strong injury insurance in case McDonald gets hurt yet again. A strong, athletic and dominant front 7 is what makes this defense tick.


I'd like to see a pure, run-stopping NT added, a young player that they can develop over time since both Williams and Dorsey are on short term contracts.


They will need a CB to replace Brown but Whitner has played well enough and deserves to be re-signed assuming his demands are reasonable, otherwise strong safety becomes another need in the draft, in addition to depth at safety overall. Dahl has been good on special teams but he's been lit up a few times playing in the secondary, don't have a lot of faith in him.

I think while our rushing defense is not as good as it used to be, our passing defense has actually improved since that time. Overall, I do agree though that we must absolutely make it a priority to address our depth across the board. Personally, I think we must address the need for additional speed at WR/TE, plus focus on depth in the trenches at DL and OL. Then lastly DBs (S in case Whitner leaves and in case Reid gets hurt again, and CB as insurance for Culliver coming off the ACL injury, and in the case that Rogers and Brown both go, which is a distinct possibility).
Are people here serious?

We lose a game 10 - 9. We lose 7 yards on a quarterback option on 2nd and short late in the game. People are wondering why we lose?

We lose a game where Fangio rushes three players on a super critical 3rd and 12. THREE PLAYERS. Then the Brooks b******t.


Without this b******t we are 8 - 2, with a quarterback who has a better rating then our last quarterback. With nothing to complain about. Our coaches stupidity and the refs stupidity have cost us the last two games. I can't imagine another interpretation.
Originally posted by BrianGO:
Are people here serious?

We lose a game 10 - 9. We lose 7 yards on a quarterback option on 2nd and short late in the game. People are wondering why we lose?

We lose a game where Fangio rushes three players on a super critical 3rd and 12. THREE PLAYERS. Then the Brooks b******t.


Without this b******t we are 8 - 2, with a quarterback who has a better rating then our last quarterback. With nothing to complain about. Our coaches stupidity and the refs stupidity have cost us the last two games. I can't imagine another interpretation.

You're both misinterpreting what I mean by "faltering" and you're missing the point. Faltering doesn't necessarily mean "losing". We can win and it still be an ugly game. Even if we won against the Panthers, the game still would've been hideous and everyone would still agree the performance overall was not acceptable. I will continue to try to state this isn't complaining about the QB or taking shots at Kaepernick. It's explaining why we are struggling to establish balance on offense, finish games, and move the ball the way we did last year and the year before. It comes down to several root causes.

1. Learning curve/in-season adjustments needed due to the adaptive nature of the NFL. Our offense is not being run anywhere near the same style it was. You cannot run the same thing forever in this league. The read-option package was limited in its time available for use. It's much more limited now. CK will overcome the hurdle eventually, but he's not through this developmental phase yet.

2. Lack of speed and failure to utilize the speed we have properly/creatively to open up things in the passing game. This actually falls partly on coaching, and partly on Baalke. Did he really expect KW to be the guy to help open things up after Ginn left?

3. 3rd down defense. This has been very poor this year. The longer we're out there, the less time we have on offense to score, while increasing the opponent's chance to do so.
[ Edited by OnTheClock on Nov 19, 2013 at 6:06 PM ]
Great points OTC! One very comparable area are injuries to WRs and the inabililty to create a decent receiving corps that can withstand injury. Is it luck? Or is ten years in a row more than just bad luck?

Have the 9ers had a true #1 receiver since TO left? I really don't think so and everyone wanted to blame Smith and now Kaepernick. I just don't think the offensive gurus have been held accountable.

I still do not blame Kaepernick nearly as much as most. Not until they have some decent, healthy receivers will I start judging CK.
Originally posted by dtg_9er:
Great points OTC! One very comparable area are injuries to WRs and the inabililty to create a decent receiving corps that can withstand injury. Is it luck? Or is ten years in a row more than just bad luck?

Have the 9ers had a true #1 receiver since TO left? I really don't think so and everyone wanted to blame Smith and now Kaepernick. I just don't think the offensive gurus have been held accountable.

I still do not blame Kaepernick nearly as much as most. Not until they have some decent, healthy receivers will I start judging CK.

Just like Alex never deserved the level of hate he got, CK doesn't deserve hate either. He has played terrible in some stretches, but when you handicap/weigh his performance with consideration for certain factors -- experience and the NFL adapting to the read-option are the big ones -- you can see there is an underlying cause for his problems and it's not 100% his fault.

There is no way around the fact that he has displayed some downright abysmal moments out there. I mean, I've been utterly disgusted at times, and I HATE that he has had HORRENDOUS performances. But I am forced to except that the problem stretches far, far beyond CK himself, so I understand deep down that he does not deserve to be blasted with some of the hate he is getting or has gotten.
[ Edited by OnTheClock on Nov 19, 2013 at 6:14 PM ]
  • nj9er
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2011 we could stop the run completely. We are depleted at NT position and it's showing when guys are breaking longer runs and are last week NO was gaining 4 yards at a time. Also we were best in field position in 2011 and had an awesome turnover ratio. Our passing offense still struggled and Smith was terrible in red zone we kicked a lot of field goals. Kaep's numbers besides the INTs look a lot like Smith. This is an offensive philosophy and bad WR problem
i wouldnt over analyze it too much. 10 games in we had huge moments like justins strip vs the eagles, delanies td vs the lions, justins pass knock down vs the giants. we've lacked those moments so far. i'll concede the brooks play was probably one of those but we still didnt have that moment vs the panthers or colts.
  • Antix
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The reason why we're faltering is simple: we're not making the plays we used to on offense.

Against the Saints we had the ball with a three point lead with about 9 mins to go. We needed a four to five minute drive that resulted in at least a field goal and a td woulda iced it. Instead, Gore drops a probable TD on second down and we go three and out. In 2011 and 2012 our offense makes that play. This year they don't.

The same goes in every other game we've lost. Against Seattle, Indy ad Carolina our offense has left plays on the field.

Our team isn't built to blow out teams. Its built to keep games close and grind you out in the 4th. Our formula has worked perfectly this year except for the 4th quarter grind. If we start making these plays we can win the SB. If we don't we may not make they playoffs.

Too much analysis and talk has gone into this. The answer is simple and right in your faces. We are one TD a game away from being undefeated. Those are the TDs we used to score, now we don't.
I see it as in 2011 no one was ready for us we came out of nowhere with a great D that would cause a lot of turn overs allowed if i believe 0 100 yard rushes and 1 or 2 rushing touchdowns. The 2011 49ers were a very similar team to the 2013 Chiefs that's one of the reasons Smith was so good that year. in 2012 we struggled a little D not as dominant as the year before and other teams were now ready for us we couldn't sneak up on them like the year before. Then Kaep comes in and leads us to a SuperBowl again teams were not ready for him they hadn't seen a guy that can throw and run as good as him they were clueless on how to stop him. Now with a whole off season teams were ready for him and this is the result. Also at the moment we are missing players that made the SuperBowl team click in Walker Moss Ginn even and most important Kaeps confidence. It seems like Harbaugh and staff are really good at being successful when other teams are seeing things for the first time but once the other team adapts to it and poses a challenge we crumble into a fetal position and look like 4-12 team.
Originally posted by OnTheClock:
I know there is tremendous debate going on about the plethora of problems we've been facing this year, and consequentially I see a lot of bickering, finger-pointing, and fighting all over the place about a variety of issues, but none more prevalent than the issue of QB play (is anyone surprised?). Nothing will change the fact that our former QB, Alex Smith is on another team. We have who we have, and Colin Kaepernick has struggled. There is no way around that fact. That's the simple truth. The not-so-simple truth achieved here though is this one question: WHY? Many individuals have thrown out every reason in the book for it, but unsurprisingly, it's something we've all heard before. Are these excuses? Or are they reasons? -- The answer lies somewhere in between, but I want to touch on what I feel is something important to consider before you make any firm decisions.


"EXCUSE": We are losing games and not passing well because there is no one to throw to and the OL can't protect.

First, take a look at the 2011 49ers team, as far as the cast we had:
QB Alex Smith
RB Frank Gore / Kendall Hunter / Anthony Dixon / Moran Norris / Bruce Miller
WR Crabtree / Morgan* / Braylon Edwards* / K.Williams / B.Swain / T.Ginn* / Joe Hastings
TE Vernon / Delanie
OL Staley / Iupati / Goodwin / Snyder / A.Davis
Notes* Morgan went on IR after week 5, and Braylon was hurt early on, and cut after week 10. Ginn got hurt in the playoffs.

Then, look at what we have had for the 2013 49ers team:
QB Colin Kaepernick
RB Frank Gore / Kendall Hunter / Anthony Dixon / LaMichael James / Bruce Miller
WR Anquan Boldin / Mario Manningham* / Kyle Williams* / Jon Baldwin* / Quinton Patton* / Kassim Osgood / Crabtree*
TE Vernon / Vance McDonald
OL Staley / Iupati / Goodwin / Boone / A.Davis
Notes* Mario didn't play until mid-season, Williams was cut after week 10, Baldwin didn't play until week 4, Patton's been hurt since week 4. Crabtree's on PUP

Looking at the rosters, the receivers that started the most games in each year respectively were: Crabtree/Williams/Ginn in 2011, and Boldin/Williams in 2013. The other primary difference is Delanie in 2011, and Vance McDonald in 2013. The overall difference in collective talent between the two groups is minimal, but slightly in favor of 2011. However, the talent and performance of the offensive line in 2011 is slightly worse than the 2013 group. Frank Gore is still running well, and the defense has been outstanding this year statistically. Both of those were the case in 2011 as well so those variables are not under scrutiny. Here are the primary stats that I think we should look at:

2011 (16 games)
Turnovers: 10
Sacks allowed: 44 (including a FRANCHISE RECORD NINE TIMES on Thanksgiving vs. Baltimore)
Snaps taken under center: 804
Snaps taken in shotgun: 314
4th quarter passer rating: 92.7

2013 (10 games)
Turnovers: 15
Sacks allowed: 24 (on pace for about 38 sacks)
Snaps taken under center: 305
Snaps taken in shotgun: 291
4th quarter passer rating: 39.6

What is my point in all this? In 2011, we had atrocious weapons and our line couldn't block. But our defense played well. Despite the record, people still also complained about terrible calls by Greg Roman. This year we have all the same things occurring. We won 13 games in 2011 and were 4-1 against winning teams. This year, we're 6-4 and are 1-4 against winning teams. What's the big difference-maker in all this? Turnovers and timely plays on offense in the 4th quarter. We've barely passed mid-season and we've already passed the 2011 turnover mark, yet have no offensive jump statistically to compensate for that. 4th quarter passing has been abysmal and there has been little confidence in our ability to make a comeback for even a field goal when we trail late. This makes us even easier to attack.

CONCLUSIONS:
1. We lack and/or do not utilize team speed on offense. Even a slight boost in weapons would help us; if we can at least get as good or a little better weapons than we had in 2011 we could do a lot more on offense
2. The biggest improvement needed is QB play. There are too many turnovers being committed -- better decisions need to be made. When a QB is not seeing things that are right in front of him or making the decision that seems to be the obvious choice, 99% of the time it's because of one of the following two things: he's thinking, not looking. (Ever been so engrossed in thought that although your eyes are open, you're not really actually seeing what's in front of you? That is what I'm talking about).

What I believe happened: I think the league adjusted to the pistol/read-option scheme to the point where it cannot be the primary focus of our attack anymore. Essentially, we are starting over almost completely from scratch with Kaepernick, and he's practically becoming a rookie all over again as he is forced to learn to play NFL-style QB in this league. He's THINKING instead of using instincts because HE HAS NO INSTINCTS developed yet. He looks like a rookie because he has had to start from square one in a massive amount of areas. This is why he looks so lost and so horrendous out there a lot of times. THIS is why Roman was quoted saying that Colin "still [has] the element of 'I'm seeing this for the first time'.." hindering him.

What I think we should expect: I believe the 49ers are going to have a rough road ahead in terms of the passing offense, and it might not be until late next season before we see legitimate, consistent improvement there. Sure, it may be sooner, but based on what our situation seems to be right now, I would not be surprised if it took that long, or even longer. Our defense and running game will help carry us for the most part and will likely do the majority of the work for us in winning games, but personally, I'd say we should expect things to stay really, really rough passing-wise at the VERY LEAST until playoff time at the absolute earliest (which I know we all hope is when it starts to click).

Right on OTC. You nailed it especially you "What I believed happened" section. Kap is attempting to unlearn much of what made him successful to this point, including his entire college career. He formed his identity as a player as a read/option QB and last year when it was new, and fooled defenses he took them by storm. He is an amazing read/option QB, probably one of the best of all time.

But then it all began to change, starting with the off season when the rules changed and allowed the defense to hit the QB on the read/option every time. Game Changer! Everyone knew it. No one could expose their QB on the read/option as a staple of the offense or even a significant part. Look what happened to RG3 last year and for sure this year it was going to be untenable. Harbaugh protested the rules change to no avail, because he knew it was a radical game changer for Kap and his offense. First game against GB, they were still smarting from the read/option anhilation they took and simply weren't ready for the all out air attack they faced. That and a horrible secondary due to injuries. Seattle figured it all out second game and Indy simply followed the scheme as have others. Kap was now forced to become a traditional, drop back pocket passer. Gone was most of how he had learned how to play and thrive in the position.

As OTC says, he had to learn all over again and most importantly re-wire his brain not to do the things he had always instinctively done with great success. That is really, really difficult. He can simply play instinctively while going through this transitions which may not be as quick as most of us would like. If anyone can get him through it, it is Harbaugh. The talent we saw last year is still there. It's simply "turned off" will he de-programs and re-programs himself. I think this is all about being patient and realizing this is, to a large degree, all about unexpected circumstances and dynamics surfacing at one of the very worst times. It has been a perfect storm of issues to render our passing game "remedial". Kap isn't going anywhere. Honestly, I don't think Roman is, especially the way the offense is performing this year. I would still place bets on Harbaugh and Kap long term. Just probably won't be this year.
[ Edited by barrymartin on Nov 19, 2013 at 6:42 PM ]
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