49ers Monday Morning Chatter Week 10: The “what’s wrong with the passing game?” edition

Al Sacco
Nov 11, 2013 at 7:41 AM23

The 49ers had been on a roll. After reeling off five straight wins and scoring over 30 points in each of those games, there were plenty of good feelings to go around in San Francisco. A dominating running game and opportunistic defense had been setting the tone for the 49ers' success and took the emphasis off of a passing game that often looked lost.

While at times efficient, the 49ers had struggled to make any big plays through the air to anyone not named Vernon Davis. In Week 10, after Davis was forced to leave the game with a concussion, the Niners needed someone to step up and make a play. It didn't happen and what was once a blemish on a well balanced team now looks like a giant scar on a squad that may not be as good as we thought because of it. The passing offense now looks like something out of a Mike Singletary/Jimmy Raye nightmare. So what are 49er fans talking about after Week 10? They want to know who's at fault!

Kaepernick's fault?

Trent Dilfer said on ESPN that once Colin Kaepernick's first read is taken away, he becomes a "remedial" quarterback. Without Vernon Davis in the lineup in Week 10, the Panthers were able to roll all of their coverages to Anquan Boldin and force Kaepernick to look in another direction. In many cases, Kaepernick was unable to do so.

Dilfer has a point. If you watch Kaepernick in the pocket, he often freezes for a split second when his first read is not there. While it's just for a moment, that split second in the NFL can be the difference between a completion and a sack. When he faces a team that is bringing pressure, Kaepernick seems to struggle to make the appropriate reads and, in some cases, may not be making the correct audibles.

His pocket presence is also lacking and, while there was pressure in Week 10, he took some sacks he did not need to and made some throws out of panic. Take the last two plays of the game for example. The 49ers got the ball back with a about a minute remaining and no timeouts. On first down, Kaepernick took a sack which, other than a turnover, was the last thing you could have happen in that situation. He should have just thrown the ball away. The sack resulted in the loss of precious seconds off the clock, which ultimately forced him into making another bad decision on second down. Instead of making an underneath throw to the sidelines and living to play at least one more down, Kaepernick forced a ball into coverage that was intercepted and ended the game.

For the season, Kaepernick has now failed to throw for at least 200 yards in seven of the 49ers nine games. Not surprisingly, San Francisco is last in league is yards passing (1565) and yards passing per game (173.8). Take away Kaepernick's 412 yards in Week 1, and he is only averaging 157.8 yards passing a game.

If you had to describe Kaepernick in one word, it would be that he looks "uncomfortable." There could be many reasons for that, but one of them has to fall on the back's of the coaching staff. Kaepernick almost looks like a quarterback who is trying to be something he isn't, running plays he's not entirely comfortable running. So, its possible the issue lies with the men drawing up the plays.

Greg Roman's fault?

After the 49ers fell to 1-2 earlier in the year, the team shifted offensive philosophies. They scrapped running primarily out of the shotgun and went back to the power running game that was the staple of the team in 2011 and 2012. It worked to perfection and helped get the team back on track. It was an adjustment, and good coaching staffs make them all the time. So why are the 49ers failing to make them in the passing game?

With a quarterback as athletic as Kaepernick is, it's puzzling that they are not calling more plays to take advantage of that athleticism. The 49ers' passing attack resembles that of a team that has a statue behind center instead of a physical dynamo. It often appears that Kaepernick is playing with shackles on and is either afraid to, or not allowed to, just let the play come to him. He is over thinking instead of just reacting.

Roman can help fix this by thinking outside of the box and using Kaepernick as an all around weapon instead of just a pocket passer. For example, read option packages are not the only way to get Kaepernick on the move. Roman could incorporate bootlegs and other plays that allow Kaepernick to role out and put added pressure of the defense. On third and short, instead of running up the gut with a running back, Roman can call more designed quarterback runs to pick up the short yardage. That doesn't mean Kaepernick has to run 15 times a game, it just means a few plays here and there will get the defense thinking about him taking off and could open up more passing lanes.

Certain play calls can also cause a player to lose confidence. If Roman calls a game in which he sets up Kaepernick to be a conservative game manager on a consistent basis, is it possible Kaepernick will start to believe that's what he is? On Sunday, the 49ers had a 2nd down and 24 from their own 18 yard line early in the second quarter. The situation was hardly ideal but not impossible to recover from. The sensible approach would be to set up a third and manageable and try to continue to move the ball. Instead, Roman called a run up the gut on 2nd down that netted one yard, and a screen pass on third down that gained five yards. The entire situation screamed "I don't have confidence in my quarterback and I'm conceding a punt...on 2ND DOWN!" You can't move the ball in any level of football if you don't try and calling those plays does not send a good message to your team.

Roman also has to option to use his other personal in creative ways to help Kaepernick. Take LaMichael James for example. He was finally active in Week 10 and it could have been the perfect time to incorporate a few screen/underneath passes to him into the play calls in an effort to keep the Panthers off balance. For whatever reason, Roman is using an overly cautious approach and the talents of a player like James are being wasted on a team that seems reluctant to use him properly or simply doesn't know how.

Supporting cast's fault?

The San Francisco offensive line is a big physical group that dominates in the running game. On the flip side, however, they have shown a tendency to get dominated themselves when pass protecting against a strong front seven. The Panthers, like the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts before them, used a fierce pass rush to keep the 49ers' offense in check. San Francisco seemed to have no answers for the attack. The blame for that does fall on the line, but Kaepernick also has to make adjustments and do a better job of getting rid of the ball. It's that split second freeze in the pocket that was alluded to earlier that can make an offensive line look like they are doing a worse job than they actually are.

The other issues could be the receiving corps. The absence of Vernon Davis is obviously something this team cannot overcome as they are unable to score without him. They only put up seven points during Week 3 when Davis was out and could not score on another dirve after he left the game in Week 10.

While Mario Manningham was back in the lineup, it's unfair to ask him to come in and be an impact player right away after a significant injury and such a long layoff. Manningham did have three catches for 30 yards (which, as far as 49ers' number two receivers go in 2013, might be the equivalent of John Taylor's 286 yards performance in 1989) but also dropped a couple of passes.

The common perception for most of this season is that, minus Davis and Boldin, the receivers are not getting open and causing Kaepernick to hold onto the ball. While that's impossible to tell without looking at the game tapes, you have to start to wonder if plays are there to be made but Kaepernick is not giving his receivers a shot to make them. Sometimes you have to throw receivers open, which is something Kaepernick did not seem shy about in 2012. So far this season, if it's not wide open, he's not taking a chance.

Whats next?

The 49ers can beat a lot of teams by running the ball and playing strong defense, but can they win the Super Bowl? The answer to that lies in whether or not they can keep up with some of the more explosive offenses in the NFL. San Francisco will get a chance to see where they stand in Week 11 when the travel to New Orleans. Offenses don't get too much more explosive than the Saints and the game will be a good measuring stick for the 49ers and their actual chances of repeating as NFC champions.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Lucky Phil
    Nov 12, 2013 at 4:36 PM
    Response: Just wait and see what happens if they lose this week!
  • Goldmind
    Get Roman out of there! Too conservative during the wrong times, plus no innovation!!! Play Call to your players ability Dumb Ass! Ship him! Defense known leauge wide not to bliz - now that Aldon is back create packages for all rotate All the DE and LB on Blitz schemes throughout the game- Monsterize the Defense!!! Kaepernick, put your Dang Game face on!!! You lost confidience and need to pick it back up! I Believe you Man! Release the shackles and spread the damn ball around forget favorite targets! Lead the recievers. Everybody needs touches- it's a team sport remember! Or forget and get shipped!
    Nov 12, 2013 at 3:04 PM
  • Eddie V.
    Not playing to the offenses strengths. The offense runs through our ground game. Gore rushed for nearly 100 yards versus the #2 rush defense in the league. Putting the ball in Kap's hands first is not the answer. Not when there seems to be "limitations" put on him. What made the offense so dynamic was his ability to extend plays. Kap looks like he has nothing to lose now that he's the top QB. And him favoriting negative tweets and being so involved in social media or media in general. I think its starting to show on the field. He said let his play on the field matter, not what he wears. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't care to see our Franchise QB in "swag" gear in Pre/Post game interviews, or in commercials. Give up the "Hollywood" Kap and get back to Kap the 49ers Organization, Fan Base and League came to know and love/hate.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 10:19 PM
  • mbniner
    When Roman was at Stanford, Harbaugh had him design the RUN offense. Another coach designed the pass offense. This should explain a lot of what we see; no innovation in the passing game. We would be better served with a passing guru (the NFL is a Passing League) who also knows something about running the ball than a guy who is an expert in only one aspect of the offense.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 8:49 PM
  • mebemused
    We are not going to the SuperBowl with the worst ranked passing offense in the league. If you asked me who would you rather have at QB, Russel Wilson or Colin Kaepernick, I would take Wilson hands down. Wilson makes plays. Roman and Harbaugh certainly aren't showcasing Kaepernick's passing skills. Their game plans over the last 6 games are conservative, putting Kaepernick into a game management role. (Than why did we trade Alex Smith?) Why isn't Jonathon Baldwin having passes thrown to him? Seems like with Kaep's arm, Baldwin could be catching high throws on deep outs all day long. As a tall long strider, why didn't we throw a deep "jump ball" to Baldwin? Frank Gore gained 8 yards on 2 or 3 passes over the middle. Why not let LaMichael James look like Darryl Sproles on those same plays? Last year, Baalke didn't draft a receiver till round 4. Both Terrance Williams and Keenan Allen was available into the middle of the third round. But we did draft Vance McDonald in the third round, but we don't use him primarily as a receiver. Instead we are teaching him to block! A TE is a QB's best friend. There are lots of short routes McDonald could run.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 8:33 PM
  • Marko
    You peeps need to give kap a break, the kid has only started 1 full season for his career, and everyone is expecting him to win a sb(no pressure). You can tell (as someone already mentioned) that it seems hes not having fun just playing the game. He seems to be forcing things, which is never good. The kid has a rocket so idk why the dont use it. Bootlegs and screens should b in our gameplan (sf classics). Play action (but serious play actions that they sell and freeze the safties/lbs) is also a must. Let the offense play man (roman) and have fun. Whatever ur doing now roman is not working, throw it out and start from scratch, because ur job is on the line, not mine.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 7:28 PM
  • Dallas Niner Fan
    I understand about play calling issues and problems with Kap and the supporting cast. I think that a combination of these things are part of the problem. But there is another factor that no one has even mentioned. Which is that you have to remember that injuries to key weapons that Kap has were out of this game. Crabtree has been out all season long. Kap has not started in that many games as a pro and he looses his major weapons. Now I am not saying that injuries should be an excuse but, but look at it this way, this would be the equivalent of Tony Romo loosing Dez Byant and Whitten. This is devastating for any team, in many ways given these issues its surprising that the Niners have done as well as they have done. Also,don't question Harbaugh his win loss record speaks for itself.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 3:57 PM
  • Gonzola
    Kappy is not the problem. Greg Roman is the problem. I looked like a genius on Sunday so there must have been something WRONG with the play-calling. Almost every play in the 3rd and 4th quarter I called before the snap. "Gore is going to run here." "Here is another poorly thought out pass play; definitely short again." It was ELEMENTARY. If I can pick apart the offense then what do you think the defensive coordinator for the Panthers was doing? Kappy only plays good football when he is having fun and when he is playing "his" game. The problem is trying to turn a "scrapper" into a pocket passer is nuts! As an offensive coordinator you have to USE what you are GIVEN, not wait for the injured masses to return or complain that you lack a TE or WR. Get the job done! The amount of talent on that team is ridiculous, you just have to USE it. Uncle Al, can you please comment on the dumbest call of them all? Sending in the FG unit when you are 4th and 1 on the 2 yard line in such a HARD fought game. Again, I told my wife, "Honey, they are going to regret this one." Again, WTF Roman and Harbaugh???? EVERY GAME MUST BE TREATED LIKE (your last) THE SUPERBOWL. Oh, I forgot we lost that game too?
    Nov 11, 2013 at 3:41 PM
    Response: I heard something mentioned about not having the right personnel on the 4th and short with the tight ends out. I would have rather had them go for it but I didn't kill them at the time for kicking because it put them up by two scores. Most people agree with you though
  • Brian R
    Look at the numbers for Kaepernick. 11-22 for 91 yards and one interception. Break it down please! There were four dropped passes (McDonald, Manningham, Davis, and Hunter). This would bring it to 15 for 22. Kaep avoided the sack a few times by throwing the ball away or his % would be even higher. Lets face it, Kaepernick rarely had a clean pocket to throw in, and the pass rush was relentless (6 sacks) and it could have been worse if it weren't for his scrambling ability. This falls on the play calling! Where is the rolling pocket, the screen passes, the quick slants, and the creative play calling? The 49er offense has gone conservative again! Why????
    Nov 11, 2013 at 2:34 PM
    Response: The McDonald drop could have changed the game. It was a great throw...I would have iked them to take a few more chances like that one
  • Paul A.
    Finally the fans are starting to come the realization that Kap is not it! The person responcible for all of this, the missed opertunity for another ring, the play calling , the whole ball of wax... Harbaugh! He decided to bet his coaching life on his guy, Kap. and he will go down with his guy...What a fool!
    Nov 11, 2013 at 10:35 AM
    Response: I'm not sure you can blame Harbaugh right now. The guy is 30-10-1 win a Super Bowl appearance in 2 1/2 years.
  • Big Al
    It isn't Kaepernick's fault that Greg Roman is clueless as to how to use his skills and talents. I guarantee that if Bill Walsh was calling the plays, Kaepernick would be rolling out, there would be reverses, screen passes, trap plays, etc. Greg Roman froze in the last 5 yards of the Super Bowl and hasn't recovered. Can anyone truly describe our offense? One week we are a passing team, the next week we're running the read option, then we're ground chuck. If I'm confused, the players must be. Greg Roman is doing his best to try to turn Kaepernick into AS. Just let the kid play and open up the offense. Diversify, Greg. Maybe you should be daring and grow a mustache.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 9:24 AM
  • Daniners
    I was at the game and specifically watched the receivers the first 10 yards and many were open. Kaep is either not pulling the trigger, or not seeing the 2nd and 3rd reads quick enough. His accuracy due to poor mechanics showed up again as well. Off-balance on several poor throws. The line struggled, but on several blitzes Kaep did not make a quick read to get rid of the ball. This is what separates the elite from the rest. He seems to audible into a situation he desires and then fails to execute. We have a loaded roster with an immature QB.That is not a great recipe for beating good teams. Wilson has struggled too, but he makes enough plays to enable Seattle to win. Kaep does not. Today, he is no better than the 5th best young QB in NFL. I am not even sure he is that good. Is he even better than AS, right now? Probably not. Ouch! Also, we were running successfully to the right in 1st Q, then started going to the left and failed miserably. Yet, we never went back to the right more than a couple times. That is poor play calling by Roman, who continues to move into the read option when our success this season remains in the I formation (which Gore is most effective at).
    Nov 11, 2013 at 9:22 AM
  • Montenv
    If the defense could substitute/make up for all their losses the offense should as well! Part of that goes to Kap but I put more blame on Roman, the QB coach and Morton the WR coach. Roam is way too conservative , jimmy raye 2.0. I agree give Kap some bootlegs or a roll out something to let him his all his tools, speed and athleticism. Kap is not making the proper adjustments/reads. Not sure if that falls on Harbaugh, Roman or The QB coach. I know Kap is young so he still has time to develop. We can't draft a receiver we can't coach /develop receivers. Why does Morton have a job?? Lastly? Why did they stop running the ball?? Gore was averaging 5 yards a carry...
    Nov 11, 2013 at 9:01 AM
  • Ladale
    @Mark, I agree and disagree. He's certainly doing all you say on his part, but the offensive scheme is to call two plays and check to the best one. So all he's doing is killing a play based on the defense. What needs to be addressed is the under utilization of personnel as Al Sacco stated. Just heard Steven A. On first take say Harbaugh is saving the read option, pistol, and run outs for the playoffs when it comes to Kaepernick. And you know they didn't really open things up with Alex Smith until the playoffs. So it might just be their philosophy.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 8:57 AM
  • Will
    Kaep is not a franchise qb, at least in my opinion... He's a one read guy that stares down his wr... I've seen pop warner kids go through more reads than him .. He's not elite in any kind of way .. Tom Brady lost just about every weapon he had but still found a way to generate offense.. You take away Vernon and the game is over? Seriously? And Greg roman need to step it up or go home.. Bootlegs, screens, etc.. Take advantage of ur personnel .. The niners have weapons, they just don't use them creatively or even at all
    Nov 11, 2013 at 8:55 AM
  • Dan
    I'd say the Niners just need to roll the dice and let Kaepernick just turn into a running QB. Run 15-20 times a game. What have they got to lose if he finally does get hurt? McCoy could avg. 150 yards a game or less like Colin is doing but IF he doesn't get hurt they could start really moving the ball.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 8:52 AM
  • Dan
    I've never thought Kaepernick was that good. He's just another bootleg type QB that doesn't have the football IQ to read defenses in a hurry. Too bad I really wanted to see Justin Smith get a Super Bowl ring. Kaepernick has only throw for over 200 yards like 4 times in his career so far and that's counting the playoffs. Bottom line. He's not a very good NFL QB.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 8:49 AM
  • Shoshanig Bedigian
    Ck7 step back, play to your strengths isn't that why they drafted you? and sent Alex away? Less merchandising, just go back to who you used to be(this one is not good)
    Nov 11, 2013 at 8:48 AM
  • Steve
    I know there have been some significant personnel changes from last year but I have noticed a pronounced change in play calling, and utilization of the QB. The 49ers need to figure out how to get Keap back to his comfort zone; which is not standing in the pocket and having D-linemen swatting at him from behind. It may be a time to start reviewing the use of rollout passes and quick handoffs. Run handoffs which don't require Keap to turn his back on the defense. That way when the 49ers run play-action, Keap can keep his eyes downfield. It just frustrates me that the play-calling and overall approach to the passing game has changed so much on the same team with the same coaches in just one year. To make things a bit more frustrating, I'm watching the Chiefs run a very similar scheme to the 2012 49ers and seeing the success they're having.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 8:47 AM
  • russsalmon
    NFC Champions and then Super-bowl contestant.....take a look at the stats and tell me how many teams remain at the highest level for more that 2 years in a row. May not be the best this year but the team will remain good and we will see the same KAP we saw last year.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 8:33 AM
  • Jeff
    I have not seen a single team that provides LESS time in the pocket than the 9ers O-line. He has about 3 drop steps before multiple dudes break through the line. Our O-line is swiss cheese, and they don't even allow our receivers to finish their routes. Remember, this is the same group of guys who had to proclaim "we don't suck" in...2011...I believe. They DO suck, there isn't a qb alive that could survive with the protection they provide. Roman doesn't offer enough short pass plays/slants to counter the blitz, as well.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 8:26 AM
  • Ladale
    What did Pete Carroll say after this seasons lost to the Seahawks? Nothing they (9ers) tried worked!! Nobody is impressed nor intimidating by the 9ers play calling. Now I didn't say players but play calling. Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, versatile Kaepernick, running backs and receiver out of the backfield in Gore and Hunter, everyone knows the abilities and potential of LaMichael James, versatile tightend in rookie Vance McDonald, he was drafted as a tightend with halfback ability out of the backfield. Haven't seen that??Man it's clear there's no concept in how to initiate player potential and offensive philosophy. And teams know it!! There's a reason Greg Roman didn't see many interviews with so many head coaching vacancies last season. underachieving on offense. How do you attempt to run a power package time and time again against Carolina when they've got everybody in the box?? Boy that slant to Manningham looked great, so we probably won't see that again.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 8:20 AM
  • Mark
    I lay this entirely on Kaepernick. How many times did they come up to the line of scrimmage and he audibled to a different play with several shifts and motions. This caused the offense to barely get the ball off in time and nine times out of ten, the play was a horrible one. Against good competition, he has been responsible for 7 turnovers, no touchdowns, an average yards per gam passing of 122, and a six point average in those games. This team will probably make the playoffs but against any decent team, Kaepernick will freeze just like Dilfer mentioned above. Take away his #1 option and his done.
    Nov 11, 2013 at 7:52 AM
    Response: You're not the only person who feels this way. I've heard from a lot of fans that say they are seriously concerned with the Kaepernick and whether or not he can be a franchise guy. He's still young, but he's not really making the right adjustments on his end as the league adjusts to him.

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