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Why Is Greg Roman Public Enemy #1?

Dec 10, 2013 at 8:53 AM

The 49ers earned their biggest win of the 2013 season on Sunday, yet if you listened to the postgame show on the radio or read any number of fan message boards you probably would have been hard pressed to think that was the case. Instead of celebrating the win, fans were busy complaining about the 49ers offensive coordinator.

The 49ers offense is too conservative and predictable. The 49ers offensive coaches don't have a killer instinct. Greg Roman is holding Kaepernick back. Harbaugh needs to fire Greg Roman. These have become the mantras for much of the fan base in 2013.

My question is simple. Why is Greg Roman so vilified?

Remember this isn't Greg Roman's offense. It's Jim Harbaugh's offense. The offense that the 49ers are running now is the same offense that Jim Harbaugh took with him to Stanford back in 2007. Roman didn't join Harbaugh at Stanford until 2009, and by that time the foundation had already been established by Harbaugh and David Shaw. In 2008, the year prior to Roman joining them, Stanford ran the ball on 63% of it's plays. The following year Roman joined the staff and a promising redshirt freshman took over the controls of the Cardinal offense. You may have heard of him. His name was Andrew Luck and he would go on to be the first player selected in the 2012 draft.

In 2010, Roman's second season under Harbaugh, and with a blossoming Luck at the controls the Cardinal offense opened up quite a bit from what they did in 2008, running the ball on 58% of it's plays.

A lot has been made of Roman's football pedigree. Many point to his prior experience being predominantly with the offensive line, yet in 2011 with the quarterback whom many considered the best in all of college football the Stanford Cardinal now under the control of David Shaw, the passing game coordinator the prior two season, continued to run the ball at a rate of 55% of it's snaps. Why? It's simple, ball control is at the heart of Jim Harbaugh's offensive philosophy for winning football and you do whatever it takes to win the game in front of you, nothing more.

Let's take a look at some of the common complaints that I have heard from the fan base with regard to Roman.

"This type of offense is fine in the regular season, but they will need to score more points to win in the playoffs."

Since Harbaugh and Roman joined the 49ers, they have averaged 31.4 points per game in the post season. This came after the 49ers averaged 24.3 points per game during the regular season over the same time period. That ranked them 11th in the league both seasons. Over the course of the first 13 games of the 2013 season, the 49ers have averaged -- wait for it -- 24.3 points per game and are currently tied for 11th in the league.

"Roman is holding Kaepernick back. Imagine if he had a more dynamic offensive coordinator."

Here's the problem with this. The only way the offense becomes more dynamic is if Jim Harbaugh is no longer the head coach. This is his offense, all the way down to game day when he is the one sending the plays in to the quarterback. It is Harbaugh, not Roman who has the final say in what play is called.

"The offense is just too conservative. They lack a killer instinct."

The Seattle game was the second week in a row in which the offense threw the ball on 65% of its plays until the game situation reached a point that running the ball became the more prudent course of action.

Many were up in arms yesterday when the 49ers decided to run the ball repeatedly to set up a field goal instead of going for a touchdown at the end of the game.

That just a case of playing smart football, and it showed the ultimate killer instinct. By running the ball, the 49ers offense kept the clock spinning and slowly put it's foot down on Seattle's throat, taking away it's life in the football game.

"The 49ers don't throw the ball down the field to try and stretch out the defense."

14.5% of Colin Kaepernick's passes have traveled over 20 yards. That is tied for the fourth highest percentage in the NFL.

"Harbaugh needs to fire Greg Roman."

Sorry to break it to you folks, but that isn't happening any time soon. While you may not care for the job that he is doing/has done, Jim Harbaugh seems to think he is doing just fine. You may recall that in the offseason the 49ers extended Roman's contract out through 2015.

Over the last two seasons the 49ers have returned to prominence winning 70% of their games and reaching the NFC Championship Game along with a Super Bowl. This followed eight straight seasons in which the team won only 36% of its games and never finished above 8-8.

Despite all of the success Greg Roman still appears to be public enemy #1. Why?
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.


  • Andrew Borthwick
    The only problem I have with Roman is twofold. 1. He doesn't seem to know how to get all our weapons involved. I think James/Hunter on another team would be stars because they would be featured to best utilize their talents. 2. My six year old niece can often tell us who is getting the ball and exactly where they are going and she is not even a fan, so I'm pretty sure defenses can figure it out too. You often see safeties and even cornerbacks crashing the line on first down. Have you noticed that these plays don't work? Yet we keep repeating them over and over every game expecting different results, which by definition is insane. I love that we are a run first team and on rare occasions we can even be creative. The numbers however don't lie about our abysmal record on third downs or against good defenses, and even though our red zone numbers are ok, with all the talent we have they should be tops in the NFL. Happy holidays and GO NINERS!!!
    Dec 16, 2013 at 1:31 PM
    Response: "You often see safeties and even cornerbacks crashing the line on first down. Have you noticed that these plays don't work?" Yet somehow the 49ers averaged 6.9 yards per play on 1st down against Seattle and 5.1 against Tampa Bay.
  • Bill
    Dec 14, 2013 at 1:19 PM
    Response: Your caps lock key stuck?
  • 49ers Fan
    While many of the counter arguments are good, saying that this is Harbaugh's offense not Roman's isn't exactly true. On several occasions Harbaugh has actually corrected reporters saying its not my offense its Greg Romans, Greg Roman has also said that when the game plan doesn't work, getting it fixed starts with me, cause its my offense. I'm not saying it would change much if Roman left, but just as complainers put all the offensive woes on Roman you can't say its all Harbaugh either. Every offensive staff member has a job for which they are accountable for and Romans is the entire offense.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 5:16 PM
    Response: I never said all of the offensive woes should be put on Harbaugh. You're right, Roman's job is to handle the offense just like Fangio's job is to handle the defense. That being said, Harbaugh is much more involved with the offensive side of the ball than the defensive side and there would be little to no change if Roman were no longer the coordinator.
  • Gonzola
    Nice article Mr. Hammer. I like your counter-arguments as well. But it was your reply to one of the comments below that really VERIFIED what I and many of my 49er brethren have been saying. Roman or NOT, we are still losers. Why? Because we have a "loser" mentality. We are not second best. We are 1st class! Not attacking you; just trying to make a small point. You typed, "It may be boring and cause a little extra stress on the fans but winning 70% of the games and going to the Championship game and the Super Bowl wasn't so bad." Yes it was/is Mr. Hammer. Going to the Super Bowl 5-0 and losing by 5 yards and lousy officiating is WORSE than never making it to the big game in the first place. Any "winner" will tell you this! Ask Eddie D and as hard as it is for him to say it, I am sure he will tell you had he LOST a Super Bowl things would have been different for him and the millions of fans. We are 49ers and we are NOT losers. This offense and its LAZY and UNIMAGINATIVE play calling at times is NOT winning games across the board. I will be patient. I will keep the faith. Thanks again for the article and I can't wait for your response, if any ;o). Ha! Happy Holidays. GO NINERS!!!!
    Dec 10, 2013 at 4:02 PM
    Response: You may be right. Thanks for reading.
  • sergiolara
    in nfc champ 2012: Crabtree caught one pass then and one pass in this game. He was invisible in the playoffs. Kyle Williams, the other starter, caught zero passes. The entire wide receiving corps caught one pass. third down effic 1-13,, if groman leaves to hc vacant, welcome back gary kubiak or shanahann
    Dec 10, 2013 at 3:33 PM
    Response: Shanahan has done a wonderful job in DC with RGIII this year don't you think?
  • MNB
    I actually agree with your counter arguments. Not sure why some fans don't see that winning is the key here. The offense doesn't seem as explosive before b/c it did lack key components (ie Crabtree and/or deep threat, etc). Now that some components are back, the offense is opening up more. Some fans are just delusional, and want to see a product that is appealing to the eye. We win with Harbaugh's formula! Don't complain, b/c it could be worse (ie Nolan, Singletary).
    Dec 10, 2013 at 2:03 PM
  • Lambo428
    Question for whoever is running the offense: If we had only 1 WR and 1 TE for most of the season, why not use our 3 dynamic running backs simultaneously with more passes - short and long? Don't tell me that this offensive line is built for running plays...
    Dec 10, 2013 at 1:58 PM
  • Frosty
    I watch a lot of rugby, and the good teams always protect the ball and control the game. Expansion is great but late in the game a turnover in the red zone would have killed us and the game. Also you must hold part of your play book back for the post season. Don't show your rivals all your cards unless you have to!
    Dec 10, 2013 at 1:49 PM
  • STL Niner Fan
    Because most fans are stupid and watch too much ESPN and allow others the media to do their critical thinking for them. This offense with Kaepernick is still a work in progress. I dont think we've seen what the coaches ulimately envision it to be. You've already seen a bit of a transformation of the offense with Crabtree's return the last two weeks. Kaepernick is still relatively inexperienced and they are just now getting their playmakers back. Yes they've had Davis, Boldin and Gore all along but opposing DEFs have been stacking the box and the secondary just focuses on Davis and Boldin. Look at IND...they lose Wayne and have dropped to an average of less than 20 points per game. Prior to Wayne's injury they were averaging almost 27 pts per game. Is Luck terrible now? Idont think so. The loss of significant playmakers really does make a difference.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 1:05 PM
  • Phx
    Why? Because no team in the NFL does less with their talent than the 49ers do on offense. Because wide receivers don't seem to progress on this team while random scrubs make huge plays for other teams. Because Roman still hasn't figured out how to utilize screens or slants. Nor does he comprehend what to do when a defense is blitzing heavily and he keeps Kaepernick going with long dropback's, getting demolished in the process. Because the 49ers still take forever and a day to get the playcall in early enough to allow the QB to have time to look over the defense and make timely adjustments without worrying about the clock running out. Because they're still blowing redzone opportunities far too often, because they still can't figure out how to utilize Vance McDonald in the passing game while his backup in college made huge plays for the Seahawks. Because they stubbornly stuck with playing Kyle Williams on the outside, game after game, even when it was clear that he was utterly ineffective. Because he stopped running the ball almost completely against the Colts when Gore was averaging almost 8 yards a carry.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 12:57 PM
    Response: I agree with you on going away from the run against the Colts. Getting away from things that are working sometimes is my biggest complaint about the play calling. They stuck with Williams until they had someone better to replace him. Vance McDonald will be fine. He did not have to block much in college so there is a big transition for him. Fortunately Bruce Miller has been able to step up and take over part of the role Walker left open. There were a number of times early in the season when the random scrub receivers were open but the QB didn't throw them the ball. Yes, the offense struggles when they get into 3rd and long situations. Most do. On Sunday the two sacks they gave up came on 3rd & 11 and 3rd & 17. Would you rather have them complete a 5 yard pass or try to throw for the first
  • Topper
    People are never happy! They need a some one to point their finger at. Most people who watch football have no idea how it is played. They think why don't they just throw touch downs against the toughest D in the NFL! People are dumb that's why they complain about coach G. Ro. People talk about being to predictable? We could go back to M. Singltary's offense.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 11:40 AM
  • EJ
    I'm not concern about Romans ability to draw run plays it's his pass plays that lacks certain creativity to offset teams that have better Defense like the Seahawks. I know part of the problem is Colin still having a hard time going through his progressions and hopefully he'll improve before the playoffs. But we want Greg to open up the offense with some ingenuity in the passing schemes. Guys like LaMichael James, McDonald and Miller should be use for short pass yardage situations. My 2 cents!
    Dec 10, 2013 at 11:37 AM
  • PokerJohn
    The numbers don't lie and you can't argue with the results of the last two seasons. The bottom line is we have all of our weapons back now and we are still not playing well on offense. How many 3 WR sets did we play on sunday? I don't know the exact number but I didn't see MM, Crabs and Boldin on the field at the same time more than once. Why don't we throw more screens? why don't we throw more swing passes (extended handoffs) which spread the D a little and make them worry about something else. Defense don't even have to cover the flat against us, we go there once every couple weeks with Miller. Whether it is Harbaugh or Roman, someone isn't doing their job. The coaches job is to put the team and players in the best postion to succeed, like Fangio does. Harbaugh or Roman aren't doing this for their O. It seems very close to a Jimmy Raye offense. We line up looking like we will run, and we do and now we are in 3rd and long. Thus the disgusting 3rd down conversion rate. I really really really hope that harbaugh isn't this stubborn/stupid to think this will work in the post season. I hope he is prepared to open up the O in PS
    Dec 10, 2013 at 11:26 AM
    Response: They ran 16 plays out of 11 personnel (their 3 WR group, MM, Crabs, Boldin). Those plays netted a total of 40 yards. 4 runs for 19 yards and 9 pass plays, 2-7, 21 yards and 2 sacks. Regarding opening up the offense in the post season, Harbaugh does whatever it takes to win, nothing more. If he can beat you running the ball 65% of the time like he did during the 5 game winning streak this season that's what he does. If he has to open it up and throw it 65% like he has the last two weeks that's what he does. It may be boring and cause a little extra stress on the fans but winning 70% of the games and going to the Championship game and the Super Bowl wasn't so bad.
  • Frank
    Jack, I think the reason Roman gets the grief is because Niner fans know Harbaugh's not going anywhere. Roman's an easy target. One factor some fans may not totally grasp is because opposing defenses had an entire off-season to figure out the read-option, our offense just isn't as dynamic as it was last year. To counter that, however, our OC (and Harbaugh) need to make some adjustments. At times they just go the well too often, which plays into what defenses are doing. WRT Gore, he's still a great RB...but he's at the age where he needs more breaks. Hunter's been grossly underutilized this year. I'd also like to see Dixon get more carries...he's a load and can give Frank some good relief. Now that Crabtree's back, the passing offense should steadily improve. Even though he's not close to 100% game-shape yet, as Boldin noted, he's already improved the offense just by being out there. I'd also like to see them use Baldwin...he really hasn't had much a chance to show what he can do. I'd have started him over Manningham because he's physically a more imposing target.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 11:09 AM
  • Carl
    It's foolish really. There have been a few games where the play-calling seemed irritating, but the real issue was our offense wasn't executing, no matter what play was called. Kaep got into a sort of "slump" and we just couldn't move the ball effectively. Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh were smart enough to go back to what really works for us, pounding the football. And guess what? We won 5 straight. Carolina and New Orleans didn't go as we hoped but I strongly feel a full strength we can take those teams on the road in a rematch. I'd love to see Kaep throw for 400 every week like he did against GB, but that's not who we are. It hasn't been the entire Harbaugh era.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 11:00 AM
  • Dave
    Then why call Roman "offensive coordinator" then?? 3rd and 10 we run??? Doesn't make sense. The plays are predictable. No screen plays, slant passes, post, curl routes. We just lack creativity. Pay attention to how fluid Denver's, Seattle and New Orleans offenses run. They run like a machine but my Niners struggle to get a first downs and field goes aren't going to make it.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 10:35 AM
    Response: Screen plays aren't that effective for power run teams.
  • Aubrey (au8277)
    (continued...) Although Harbs gets final say on play calls, I guarantee you there isn't much veto action going on, because the play clock doesn't allow for Roman to assess the situation, select an appropriate play call, then get vetoed and Harbaugh to come up with an alternate play call. Trust me, this doesn't happen much, if at all. Harbs has intimated several times that he trusts Roman's calls, so any play calling flack the 49ers get should rightfully be aimed at the man making the call first, and the man who allows aforementioned play-caller to dial up head-scratchers second.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 10:27 AM
  • Aubrey (au8277)
    (continued...) Two plays are sent to Kap on a given play; the variability of which are dictated by the personnel group on the field. Kap can audible out of said play into a different one given what the defense shows, but you can't audible to a pass play if you make your run intentions known with a 1 receiver, 3 TE (or extra lineman) grouping. This is just hitting your head against a brick wall...period.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 10:26 AM
  • au8277
    Nice article. I think most fans are more upset about Roman's situational play calling than the overall offensive philosophy predicated in the 49ers scheme. Example: 3rd and 2 deep in Seattle territory and...a fullback dive that's stuffed, of course. (continued...)
    Dec 10, 2013 at 10:26 AM
  • Joe Nitro
    Make this short and sweet. We as Niner fans have degressed as intelligent fans! Come on we need to keep things simple for our young QB who clearly doesn't pick up the progressions at all! We need to win games and that is why we are running the offense we are now. I would love to see more explosive scoring but you all can see CPK makes one read and locks on and if he doesn't make that throw he is either sacked or runs. I say make that first read and if not there run! I know it's a simple and not smart approach but maybe until our QB decides to really study film instead of doing photo shoots, commercials , social media , endorsing "beats by Dre" etc, we need to make things simple for him.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 10:09 AM
  • Cole
    I hope that was a small minority of fans that were complaining. Everything I've seen online has been nothing but celebratory. I also don't live in the Bay Area though and perhaps it is like that there... Hope not though. NINEREMPIRE
    Dec 10, 2013 at 10:00 AM
  • Darrell G
    Too many Fantasy Football and Madden Franchise "experts", that's why. They think it is a video game where they enforce their will on the AI. Real world doesn't work that way.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 9:58 AM
  • robb
    Good article. This kinda walked me back from going down that path
    Dec 10, 2013 at 9:47 AM
  • Fresniner
    When you see other offenses with mediocre QBs at best throw for 300 or 400 yards with 3 TDs, you start to think, "why can't the niners do that? They have a freakishly athletic QB, who can throw the long ball with the best of them." Case in point, last night Josh McCown looked phenomenal. Of course he played against a historically bad defense. The point being, why can't Kaep play like that? So here's the thing, I agree with this article completely. The niners remind me of a boxer that wears out it's opponent, by grinding it out round after round. Winning by decision, not a knockout. The thing is, it's been pretty effective the last three seasons. It isn't flashy, but it does get it done. So if the conservative approach is what they do best, why not stick with Alex Smith, the king of safe play? Because with Kaep, they can unleash him if necessary, he at least gives them the option, even if they don't use it. This offense is completely Harbaugh's. When Roman gets his head coaching gig, you will probably see their offense light it up.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 9:32 AM

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