Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Identity Tied to the Line

Jesse Dumas
Nov 4, 2014 at 7:06 AM

Denver was a bad loss. Getting whipped on Sunday Night Football in front of the entire NFL universe was one thing, but losing a game against a floundering and weakened opponent when you desperately need to keep pace with your divisional opponents is much, much worse. Even more troubling is that at halfway through the season, this offense is having a major problem being successful in any agenda they set out to accomplish. They're caught between their roots of power-run, smashmouth football and their desire to spread the ball around to a multitude of talented playmakers, and it's killing this season.

The real problem is, they're not very good at either right now. Yes the offensive line has looked embarrassingly bad in pass protection, but in fairness to those veteran players they're being asked to do things that aren't their strength nor have they been asked to do before (5 WR sets?). A good offensive line is not an absolute value, they don't operate in a vacuum. What line play works for a certain offense doesn't work for another and what was good for this team over the last three years clearly isn't good for them right now. Hulking, run-blocking guards and tackles are great for clearing lanes for your Hall-of-Fame tailback, not necessarily for keeping your Franchise Quarterback off his ass.

The 49ers could probably regain some form in the power running game with the players they have up front, rookie center Marcus Martin included, if they put their minds to it. But it's clear they don't think they can get over the championship-hump with that plan and they've got the wide receiver payroll to show it. It's also becoming clear that the team doesn't believe Frank has much punch left either. What clearer message could be sent by not handing off to him with the game on the line? Not once? With a timeout to burn?

So they can't (or won't) run and they can't throw with any kind of regularity. Therefore they can't score with regularity and obviously can't win with regularity.

I wrote before the opening weekend that this would be Harbaugh's finest season if he could pull off the transformation that was shaping up to take place, implementing all those flashy wideouts and diversifying the offense. It still could be, but the new territory he's pushed this team into looks as uncomfortable for him to navigate as it is for us to watch. Gone is the "bully" mentality and physical dominance that punctuated wins in the toughest environs. Now we have sloppy execution and last ditch efforts to come up short at home.

Perhaps the return of some familiar faces and some timely gifts from the defense by way of turnovers and field position will pull this team out of its funk. With as great as the defense can be, that's not an unrealistic scenario to play out, but it's obvious the offense has no blueprint to victory anymore. Not for the good teams, not for the bad teams. They're built to strike when the other team is on its heels, a regular occurrence when playing opposite a top 3 defense, but they're not built to dictate the pace of a game, not yet anyway.

They're figuring this approach out as they go and time is clearly running out for them to put it together. 10 points sure as hell won't get it done on the road against the Saints this week and 17 wouldn't either (for those of you convinced Kaep got in before fumbling). If there's a silver lining to this loss, it's that we're going to know exactly what this team is made out of going forward. A last second win would have taken some of the pressure and the stink off what's going on here. But with the loss there was no mistaking the gravity of the moment. This was either rock bottom, or the bottom is just falling out.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • r.m.
    Kaep has run much less and has much less time to target his very talented weapons. Meanwhile, our O'line seems really porous. They were getting pushed around by the Rams D-line and the blitzing of the Cards. (Enter Seahawks). Injuries, suspensions, hold-outs, change of offensive schemes haven't helped or worked despite so-called "so many weapons." Plus even the D which has good stats, isn't as dominant with its turnover. This next man up mentality won't produce the results of recent years. Is like hiring a trainee to do highly skilled fired worker's job. Plus all this chatter in the media who is real anti-Harbaugh "is" the big distraction. The 9ers sure have had a target on their back this year, from the media, the refs, the NFL. Is it the success of the York's and their new stadium's largesse? It's not surprising that we are 4 and 4. Sadly, the fans hopes are hanging by a thread for this year's success to manifest.
    Nov 5, 2014 at 1:44 PM
  • Big Mike
    Best article that i have read about the demise n downfall of my 9ers. True on every front. SMH...what happened 2 my tough guy mentality?
    Nov 4, 2014 at 1:10 PM
  • Derek
    When the Niners give the ball to Frank they win! Nuff said!
    Nov 4, 2014 at 9:45 AM
  • t889a10
    The bulk of the 49ers' problems are on the offensive side of the ball no matter how one looks at it. The entire offense is so predictable, unimaginative and very boring to watch. With teams like Packers, Saints, Cardinals and even Seattle, one can see offensive imaginations and creative plays. With the ball on the 1 yd line, 42 secs left and 1 timeout, it's almost certain that these teams would have been able to score a TD to win the game. Our offensive players are not being developed either. Ellington and Hyde have the skills to make impacts in games offensively but the coaches don't know how to use them for that purpose. I watch other teams and see their rookies making good contributions to their teams' successes compared to the 49ers.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 9:40 AM
  • six-ace-deuce
    This article nails. In Harbaugh's first 2 seasons, the Niners became an elite team because they outsmarted and out-PHYSICALED teams, and being physical means running the ball. To be considered a very physical team, in the most physical sport says something. I have YET to see a team be considered physical with 4-5 WR sets! The Niners dont have to run strictly out of 21 personnel, you can run out of 3WR or even 4WRs if you have a RB in the backfield. It's not even about what formation they do it from, it's a matter of establishing an offensive rhythm. The offensive line is the foundation of the offense, if this line is exceptional at running the ball, seems you would run the ball! Everything is built upon your foundation, and if your foundation is shaky nothing else will flourish.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 8:12 AM
  • KY49ER
    You know what's mind boggling is people are so focused on this season, but this not giving the ball to Frank Gore on the goal line can be traced back to the Super Bowl against the Ravens, if not further. This has been happening for a while. We run the ball down the field, get inside the 5, and go shotgun. This isn't new. Many people will blame Kaep but this problem has happened for years. It's a major issue now because we aren't winning and it's still happening. If I was Frank and the Oline I'd be pissed. If Frank doesn't have it anymore give it to Hyde. He's fresh. I don't think that's the problem. I think Harbaugh/Roman out think themselves. Yes everyone knows we are going to run it, so what. Tell them to stop it.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 7:32 AM

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