Still Stupid After All These Years

Nov 4, 2014 at 11:12 AM32

You promised, Coach. You promised to end this.

Four years ago, the Niners had thrown a game away, in an avalanche of what Mike Singletary called, poetically, "dumb stuff." And this, I argued, was precisely how Singletary had severed the ties to our glorious past. Sure, the Niners were losing, of course. But worse was that the Niners were dumb, and if one thing marked the Niners of old, it was the absence of even a trace of dumbness.

"Walsh's teams were disarmingly intelligent and curious," a writer remarked when the great coach died, "from Hall of Famers such as Young and Lott to lesser-knowns such as guard Guy McIntyre and tight end Jamie Williams. The Niners surely had a dope here and knucklehead there, but they were obscured by the scores of players who reflected their coach's intellect and reason. Intelligence characterized every single thing the 49ers did, especially on offense, to the point that it was intimidating."

And that's why, as a nine-year-old lad, I fell in love with Walsh's Niners. As I've said, they were the ultimate melding of mind and muscle. "Genius, which will kick your ass."

When Jim Harbaugh arrived, he promised to restore the West Coast Offense, and surely he knew what that promise meant. It meant more than restoring Walsh's schemes. It also meant restoring his genius. And Harbaugh, as Walsh's final protégé, seemed perfectly suited to do just that.

We're still waiting.

After his very first game, he sounded not like Walsh but like Singletary, praising his offense's "blue-collar" style: "running the ball, not forcing the throw, playing field position." Almost exactly three years later, he again sang the virtues of playing it safe, professing not to understand what it meant to keep your foot on the gas.

But today we're not talking about offensive aggression. No doubt, aggression was a crucial component of Walsh's offense, the one that Harbaugh promised to restore. But as I said, it had another component. And Harbaugh was showing more than a lack of aggression; he was also showing a lack of smarts.

And on Sunday, he was just plain dumb.

As you might know, the primary tactic of the West Coast Offense—which, again, Harbaugh promised to restore—is a short, quick passing-game. Those short, quick passes essentially are higher-percentage runs; instead of handing off to a running back who must navigate the annoying congestion at the line of scrimmage, the QB "hands off" to a receiver who's one move away from wide-open space. But they're also higher-percentage passes; they're easier to complete, and here's something else: because they're quick, they greatly reduce the chances for sacks.

On Sunday, Harbaugh watched the Rams sack Colin Kaepernick six times in the first half, eight times overall. The situation practically begged for the West Coast Offense: those quick hitters, the slants, outs, and screens. And we never saw it. With rare exceptions, Kaepernick continued to drop back, only to be overwhelmed, and drive after drive continued to stall.

Harbaugh promised the West Coast Offense. By now, I'm not sure he knows what it is.

Nevertheless, on their last drive, the Niners still had a chance to win. And if indeed this is Harbaugh's last stand, this last drive might've been his Alamo.

Finally in a rhythm, the Niners moved from their own 12 to the Rams' 5, first down. The setup looked like the end of that Super Bowl, right down to the officiating crew. With highly questionable playcalling, which had subjected themselves to highly questionable officiating, the Niners had squandered that opportunity. And as we've discussed, the Niners don't learn.

They don't learn, because they're dumb.

During that Super Bowl, the Niners didn't use their creative running-game; instead, Kaepernick tried to force the ball to Michael Crabtree. So, on Sunday, even after a penalty gave them first down at the two, the Niners didn't use their creative running-game; instead, Kaepernick tried to force the ball to Michael Crabtree. Crabtree gained a yard (though he might've scored; who on earth knows at this point). On second down, at the one, Kaepernick looked to throw again, and ended up throwing the ball away. And on third down, with the Rams' entire D stacked up, and with the Niners' offensive line having failed at everything all day, the Niners finally ran Kaepernick—not on an end-around after a fake to Frank Gore, a play that would work every time down here—but straight into that mass of humanity. Kaepernick didn't score (though he might've scored; who on earth knows at this point), and, worse, he didn't preserve a shot at the tying field-goal. Instead he fumbled the game away, along with much of what's left of the season.

And there you have it, a perfect capsule of Harbaugh's Niners. Tantalizingly close, but always undone by the same mistakes: over and over and over again.

Afterward, predictably, Harbaugh stood by his offensive coordinator. He's nothing if not loyal. And I'd theorized, in seasons past, that Harbaugh's only fault was his loyalty: that his Walshian genius was being thwarted by his refusal to lower the boom on his less-capable assistants. A nice story, and one that I'd willed myself to believe.

No more, though. If Harbaugh were truly Walsh's heir, he'd see to it that his assistants and players "reflected their coach's intellect and reason." He'd see to it that "intelligence characterized every single thing the 49ers did, especially on offense."

Instead, Harbaugh's merely Singletary's heir. Singletary's failure was a torrent of "dumb stuff." And how best to describe the Niners today? "We've been doing dumb stuff," one player said. "Dumb blocks, dumb techniques, and dumb schemes."

You promised, Coach. You promised to end this.

As everything crumbles, we're still waiting.
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.


  • Niner
    Name any team since Bill walsh to be ranked near the bottom of the league in pass offense ( x3) that won a super bowl.
    Nov 10, 2014 at 7:55 PM
  • Zachameen
    Finally someone has guts to say that Greg Roman is Dumb and his Running back Tim Tebow (Kaeperror) is dumber. Harbaugh can not win Super bowl in one million years if Greg Roman is his offensive Coordinator. I believe that Harbaugh won't return to 49ers next year or after his contract is over. York and Baalke are dumbests of all because they are going to let Harbaugh go and keep drafting busts.
    Nov 10, 2014 at 6:31 PM
  • Jason
    You people that want to blame Kap are so retarded it's astonishing. You're so stuck on your original opinion of his game that you completely ignore the way he has played this season -- when not on his ass that is... I'm not going to bother with stats, because you don't pay attention to them anyway. ... Kinda like Jeff failing to pay attention to the fact that Harbaugh is the only coach in NFL history to take his "dumb" team to the NFC Title game three straight years. You're all a bunch of tools!
    Nov 5, 2014 at 5:10 PM
  • Ironhawk86
    Come on, Jeff. You're better than this. Harbaugh isn't the dumb one. The Yorks are. And they along with their puppet GM have completely undermined his authority out of their own greed and egotism. You run any professional organization like this and "dumb" actions by the employees will inevitably follow.
    Nov 5, 2014 at 1:03 PM
  • Webzone Commenter
    Real Jeff Kaplan. Real Dumb. Real FAst. Boy you sure do love throwing words like dumb and stupid around in you're colunms for someone so dumb himself. Yeah right we should run the west coast offence! LOL! We had a west coast offense quarterback in Alex Smith but you and your friends in the liberal media coudltn' run him out of town fast enough now could you?? If you knew anything you would know that a quarterback sneak up the middle was exactly the right call and what this team needed to do we are a power running team. When will you get that?!? I cant' beleive I wasted four minuts of my life on your arogance again. You are so spoiled you cant even see what a great coach we have and you wont be happy until you run him out of town with Mike Singletary which is what you must mean and want when you call him his hair apparint. Damn, boy.
    Nov 5, 2014 at 8:17 AM
  • Mel
    The offense is limited by Kap's limited ability to make quick, quality decisions. Couple that with turnovers, the offense operates in a slow grind generally going nowhere. Kap also is not an accurate passer. He's too muscular. He's not a SB winning quality QB.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 10:12 PM
  • sergio lara
    bring back oc mike shannahan and rick dennison like offensive line coach and see you good bye the problems and welcome the WCO ahh George seifert like consultant cmon harbaugh please ..regards from México natión niner
    Nov 4, 2014 at 9:52 PM
  • JR
    Anybody who would compare Harbaugh to Singletary is a full blown retard! !!! Spoiled we have become in the past three years. Completely erasing the prior then years of disaster of this team by the Yorks. After a record breaking three years for a head coach. This man is not allowed to have a bad one? Spoiled we have become in the past three years.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 6:50 PM
  • Nick S.
    I don't fully disagree with you here Jeff, but to write that the QB-sneak on 3rd & the goal line was a "dumb" call is just wrong. It just looks bad because it didn't work. We're talking about inches here... Kaepernick was inches away from scoring on that play. So to sit there and proclaim that any sort of QB-run otherwise would work "every time" is just bad writing on your part and you know it. You even say "he might have scored, who knows at this point." So who are you really upset with? Harbs or the officials? Or is it just cause the 49ers lost a game that was due to WAY more than the final three plays?
    Nov 4, 2014 at 6:37 PM
  • Monsterniner
    It´funny because with Alex Smith we had something very similar to the WCO but the fans hated him because he used to throw a lot of checkdowns. "Throw the ball deeper" they said to him all the time. Now we have Kaepernick who has a cannon arm but a limited brain to understand what´s going on in a hard and ugly game like the last one and he always wants to throw deep passes and no checkdowns. Funny how things work out huh?
    Nov 4, 2014 at 6:20 PM
  • ChicagoNiner
    This was a HUGE lost for us and everyone involve must be held accountable. Our offense played flat with no sense of urgency. Play calling was not effective and we did not make any adujstments as usual. I just do not understand, when you are playing a very young and agressive defense why not use misdirection to score the final TD!!! Why not utilize Boldin, VD or Frank Gore with a hand off or a pitch. I am a Jim H supporter however we have to change our approch asap or this season is over.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 4:51 PM
  • Frank
    Remember, Roman couldn't get any 3rd downs with Alex Smith either. I think we know who is he culprit here.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 4:08 PM
  • Dallas Niner fan
    I agree with most of what you say Jeff, but after 3 big games: super bowl, NFC championship and last week in which we were in a do or die situation, in the red zone, the team has failed with take your pick: Poor play calling, bad decisions or poor execution. The bottom line is that we are never going to win the super bowl with the duo of Kapernick and Roman. Kap may be salvageable but somethings got to change here. The Niners just can't win big games coming from behind and I don't think this is going to change without personnel changes.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 3:54 PM
  • rapid4
    Harbaugh is not Walsh -- hot scoop!!
    Nov 4, 2014 at 3:37 PM
  • Phil
    Why should we wish for a return to the WCO and Walsh? That was then, this is now. Walsh, Montana, Rice, and Young are gone and don't matter. This team should have its own identity by now, not be looking wistfully at the past. Gore had it right. Roman isn't on the field, the players are. Sure, his playcalling can be atrocious and one-dimensional, and he's doing far less with much more this season. The players have to execute. And Kaep does not. He'll never be Aaron Rodgers. Never. He's too jittery in the pocket. I was in his corner, like Alex Smith, but it is increasingly obvious that he will never progress beyond making one or two reads and taking off when he misses the wide-open WR streaking down a side-line. And it's not just him, this team has something wrong with it, probably a lot wrong with it. If there is a problem between Harbaugh and Baalke, in my opinion, it's that Baalke wants to draft a replacement for Keep and Harbaugh disagrees.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 3:23 PM
  • Ben Jimenez
    I agree to an extent, but I also think it's pretty short sighted of folks (the author of this article included) to pretend like we all love their "creative" run game. How many times have people called for Roman's head because of his unwillingness (or inability) to do anything but call "creative" runs? How many times have we bitched about how these "creative" running plays take too long to line up for and leave Kaep with 2 seconds on the play clock? How many people would have been yelling and screaming had the 9ers gotten stuffed on 3 "creative runs" off left guard, like they have many times before. Were those play perfect? not hardly. Is it just as simple as calling "creative" runs every time they get into a short yardage situation? Not even close. What Roman lacks (in my humble opinion), is the ability to do things on a consistent basis that catches the other team off guard. Maybe the West Coast Offense would create that kind of confusion (see, I did agree with some of it).
    Nov 4, 2014 at 2:30 PM
  • JeuSF49
    Well we had a kind of WCO, but people hated the QB. Kaepernick is not the QB for the WCO, he still throws to hard, an issue that still isn't fixed!! We will see if Harbaugh will be able to rebound after this game, he usually is able to do that, yet the problems do not finish here. The Playcalling is a concern, ROman is good in the Run game, very creative and usually keeps the opposing defence on their heels, yet in the more classical passing attack he stumbles, the spread is somewhat working. A decision has to be made about the ongoing issue with Roman's playcalling, either provide him with an assistant for the passing game ( that might be Harbaugh), or get some one who is able to make better game time decisions, to often it seems that Roman blindly stucks to his gameplan, and is stubborn kind of a poor man's Mike Martz.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 2:04 PM
  • brahdah
    Funny when all we talk about weak schedule and the games we should win when we just played one game .Blame coaching on this one. The outcome shouldn't have happen ,coaching adjustment should have be made after haft time be same old Niners trying to run that same old shit in the middle another year of watching the Niners not making the Super Bowl you only can fool the rest of the NFL. So long until they know how to play you.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 1:30 PM
  • Bret
    There's some truth to what you say; and like you I long for the beauty and genius of Walsh's schemes. But I don't think that's all of it: the Niners are not built for the West Coast Offense. They've spent a decade acquiring and tutoring big burly monsters who are excellent road graders. Aside from Staley, do any of them have the quickness and agility to excel in pass blocking - even with quick, short passes? Of course it's the fault of Harbaugh and Baalke that they haven't been looking to build a different kind of line, and so for that reason, your point may be valid.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 1:25 PM
  • wilson
    Another over reactionary article by fans and journalists with unrealistic expectations. I live in Denver its worse here. The Bronco's are a 2 loss team and the fans and local media are calling for a replacement of the whole staff and coaching crew. How stupid is that? About as dumb as calling for JH to be replaced. Teams lose sometimes and we do want them to improve. If Kap doesn't fumble we aren't reading this. There are problems with the offense, GRo will probably get replaced after the season.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 1:22 PM
  • Jimmy G
    Proof positive you cant make college game play calls in the NFL! To bad no one on the Niners coaching staff have figured this out!
    Nov 4, 2014 at 1:18 PM
  • T
    Well spoken.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 1:06 PM
  • Lucky Phil
    Dumb is the appropriate word. And here's why I get mad at Crabtree and I'll just stick to one reason, that applies to this game. On the goal line, 1st down at the two, Crabs runs a quick out route, through the end zone, one yard deep and he's open. Kap throws a duck, it's short. Crap should have keep his hands over the goal line either that pass makes into the endzone for a TD or not. Instead he dives out of endzone, makes a catch (thats not a catch) gets one yard and we burn the clock down from 42 to 14 seconds. While everyone stands around on the sidelines wondering what the hell should we do. Did he score? Is the clock going to stop? Is anyone going to even call a time out if it's not going to stop. Whats ironic for team that burns timeouts, numerous times while it's scratching its ass, we ended this game with one timeout. Well, I guess I will call that progress.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 12:56 PM
  • Paul
    The team has been dumb mainly with penalties. The off field stuff is also dumb. If the team is going to act like thugs at least they could win. The team has a lot of injuries and suspensions. The defense has been pretty good considering it has starters rejoining the team soon. Harbaugh, isn't a dumb coach. The offense looks good at times, but then seems to fall asleep in the second half.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 12:55 PM
  • Terry B.
    It's now only a matter of time before Harbaugh shows the team his hairy ass crack.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 12:53 PM
  • Frank
    Agree 100% we are not a very smart and good team right now. It hurts but I will stick with my boys like a bad marriage lol.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 12:45 PM
  • DavidWGibson
    Thank you. Been saying this for awhile. Harbaugh is NOT a good NFL coach. He rode the wave on inherited personnel. He's so stupid, he doesn't even follow his own football theory, power run, power run, power run. I'd be happier with a power run than the crap he's been calling. To Marcus: You can remain blind all you want... Harbaugh is garbage. Singletary 2.0. "We'll work on what needs working on" = "Gotta look at the tape."
    Nov 4, 2014 at 12:33 PM
  • tom
    Another 4 minutes of my life wasted. Your arrogance is really beyond belief. Nobody knows anything about how the 49ers should play but you.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 12:29 PM
  • Marcus
    Harbaugh's merely Singletary's heir? Seriously? Have you been living in a hole the past three seasons? In reality, Harbaugh has fired assistants over the years, going back to Stanford. He's not loyal to a fault. The premise of these arguments is based on perception, not fact.
    Nov 4, 2014 at 11:52 AM
  • Paul A.
    Jeff, Well here we are at 2014 feeling like its 2010 and still talking about a team with all the potential to be a SB winning team and a dumb coach...When will it end!
    Nov 4, 2014 at 11:48 AM

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