Don’t Pin Rams Loss On Play-Calling

Nov 5, 2014 at 2:33 PM


In the wake of the 49ers loss to the Rams last Sunday the grumbling among those calling for the dismissal of offensive coordinator Greg Roman has turned into a roar. That's understandable. The 49ers find themselves with a record of 4-4 and teetering on the edge of elimination from the playoff race. Fans look at the run to pass ratio and point to that as the reason their team lost the game. "Roman isn't playing to the strength of his team" they say.

There is definitely some truth in that. Against the Rams the 49ers called only 18 running plays to 41 pass plays. That doesn't look like the 49ers way at all. As Colin Kaepernick ran for his life in the first half, getting sacked six times Roman continued to dial up pass play after pass play.

Let's go back a step to the calls for Roman's head. By now everyone should know that calling for Roman to be fired is also calling for Jim Harbaugh to be fired. Every call that is made on game day goes through Harbaugh and at times he will override the call from Roman. Harbaugh admitted as much in his Monday press conference following the Kansas City Chiefs game when questioned about a failed play call, "And then the next play call was mine. I really felt, if he was going to pursue like that, then we could run the quarterback keep around the edge. And Tamba played it different. So that hurt us on that last attempt to really get the ball into the end zone. He played it different. Kap made a spectacular effort of not losing too many yards. I got outsmarted on that one." The offense isn't strictly a Greg Roman production. It's a Greg Roman/Jim Harbaugh production. Let's call it a Rombaugh production.

Now on to the run to pass ratio. Rombaugh did struggle through the first half. There's no excuse for calling 24 pass plays and only 9 running plays, especially when it is clear that your offensive line is struggling to pass protect.

Rombaugh recognized this failing at halftime and adjusted accordingly. In the second half the 49ers offense had a run to pass ratio of 9 to 8 through the first three possessions. It wasn't until they fell behind 13-10 with 5:25 remaining that things got out of whack, and even then the blame shouldn't rest on Rombaugh.

On the first possession after the Rams took the lead the 49ers faced a manageable 3rd and 4 situation at their own 27 yard line. Rombaugh dialed up the perfect play call, a staple of their offense since 2011. They spread the field and called for Michael Crabtree to run an inside screen. The play was wide open for an easy first down. One problem. The quarterback didn't make the necessary throw, leading Crabtree to the point that he could barely get his hands on the ball. Missed opportunity.

On the final possession of the game the 49ers offense moved the ball down to the doorstep of the Rams endzone. Rombaugh again went to a staple of their offense. A play that if you're old enough to have watched the magic of Montana to Rice you will recognize. The play called for the quarterback to roll to his right and hit the receiver in the flat. And it would have worked to perfection had the quarterback made the throw. Instead it was off the mark and Crabtree was forced to dive for the ball which took him out of the endzone. Missed opportunity.

Earlier today on Sirius XM Radio, Joe Montana himself weighed in on the 49ers offense saying that Rombaugh need to, "spring Kaepernick out of the pocket more often to utilize his play-making skills."

Guess what Joe. They did.

Rombaugh didn't call their best game ever on Sunday, but when the chips were down late they put their players in position to succeed. And the quarterback failed.
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.


36 Comments

  • rhino
    Wow! Another rushing RD in the Red zone!!! Who knew??? This new play calling is sure making a big difference. I am glad they aren't trying to pass when there isn't a need for it like last week. Kaepernick' s run was a very important part of that drive too!!!
    Nov 9, 2014 at 10:30 AM
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  • Rhino
    Wow! Look at that. We did what I suggested by running the ball in the red zone and got the first TD of the Saints game. We could have beat the Rams with smarter play calling.
    Nov 9, 2014 at 10:14 AM
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  • Scooter_McG
    What gives me some hope, Jack, is that Ben Roethlisberger was successful early in his career despite not being one to anticipate guys coming open or avoiding the rush by dumping the ball off. He has always been excellent at avoiding pressure, and extending plays, which helped him overcome that deficit in his game. And now he is much better at anticipating throws and taking the dump off when he has it. So there is hope for Kaep.
    Nov 7, 2014 at 1:18 PM
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  • Scooter_McG
    I did in indeed Jack, and thank you for sharing. That article really showcases the boom or bust nature of Kaep as a player. While I can see an improvement from Kaep in terms of going through progressions, it still very much has a mechanical feel to it, from my eyes. It isn't natural for him. And that is maybe why when under duress he still struggles to go through progressions. Kaep has all the physical talent in the world, but playing QB at the NFL level becomes more about the mental aspect than the physical. Guys that have that innate understanding of coverages and where their guys are meant to be, which guys should be coming free at any moment. I don't see that from Kaep when under duress. Will be interesting to see if he ever becomes adept at it, or if he can overcome that deficit in other ways.
    Nov 7, 2014 at 2:38 AM
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    Response: You will see flashes of it from him, but it's just too inconsistent.
  • Scooter_McG
    Thanks Jack. So in summary, when they were passing a lot, they used a lot of 3 or more WR sets, and when they went to a more running oriented attack, they went away from 3 or more WR sets. Not particularly difficult for the defense to figure out.
    Nov 6, 2014 at 5:57 PM
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    Response: I don't disagree. They need to get their running game going out of the spread. Have you seen this piece? http://www.footballoutsiders.com/film-room/2014/film-room-colin-kaepernick-and-teddy-bridgewater
  • Scooter_McG
    Jack, with those adjustments they made at half time, what formations did they then typically run out of? Which formations did they then typically pass out of? Genuine questions, as I haven't had time to go back and watch the film and don't know the answer. But I'd be very interested to see how varied it was.
    Nov 6, 2014 at 12:26 PM
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    Response: In the first half they had 3 or more receivers on 22 of 33 plays. In the second half they used 3 or more receivers on 4 of the first 17 plays prior to the Rams taking the lead.
  • Jack Jr.
    Okay, I feel it was the play calling, to fire G.R. not yet. But the turning point in this game was, with 2:15 mins. in the first half, the 49ers had 2nd and two. If they run the ball,even if they don't get the first down,they still keep the ball until the 2 min. warning. worse cas they 49ers go into half-time 10-3 not tied. ball control should have been the calls at that point in the game... The Rams never scored a touchdown in the game.final score,10-6 49ers..
    Nov 6, 2014 at 11:16 AM
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    Response: Great name.
  • Mood_Indigo
    I'm afraid that with reluctance, I have to call this Hammer column a lot of baloney. The point is not whether Kap did not make two throws that any NFL QB should make. Kap did not play well. The point is not that the O line allowed multiple sacks. They played awful in pass protection. The point is not that the O line and TEs did not run block consistently. They didn't. The point is not that the receivers dropped catches they should have made. They did. The point is that the entire offense did not come to play after a bye week (oh, and the Niners are 1-2-1 after a bye under Harbaugh). The entire offense has been underperforming for the whole season. It's one player on one play screwing up followed by another on the next play. These are the same players who were winning for the Niners in the past. The pass plays are being very predictable, e.g., no one's buying play action, seems to me they are almost never running from a 4 receiver set. I'm reading Matt Maiocco's blogs carefully of late. No other beat writer feels the pulse of the locker room as well as he does. And all indications to me are that the Niners offense is not going to turn around this season.
    Nov 6, 2014 at 10:01 AM
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    Response: And despite all those things they were in position to win the game in the final moments. They had the perfect call, it was wide open, and the QB missed it.
  • dan the 9er man
    Disagree. Why? Because when your team is getting pummeled passing play after passing play, you don't keep trying the same thing. He did it all game. There wasn't a lull. He called pass play after pass play, even though we obviously couldn't block. Was there a switch to screens or short slants? No, Kap continued to do 5-7 step drops play after play, while getting swarmed by the Defense every time. It doesn't take a genius to change it up. It takes a competent OC, and i don't see where Romas has ever been a competent OC. He's always been one dimensional, RUN. That's all he knows. He has to have pass specialists run the passing schemes. That's not an OC. That's an assistant to the assistant. And the fact that it hasn't worked for 3 straight years and yet Harbaugh keeps running out the same tired routine, just means that Harbaugh needs to go as well. This ship is not going to right itself with the current leadership on board. Too much ego and stubbornness getting in the way.
    Nov 6, 2014 at 8:32 AM
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    Response: Not quite. They went to a balance attack through much of the 2nd half. The QB just failed to execute in clutch time.
  • ChicagoNiner
    Jack, I have to agree with you that if kap executed better on those plays we could have won the game. Specifically, on the last play all he had to do was hold on to the football after crossing the line! I watched the replay bunch of times and it appeared he took his eyes off the ball during the exchange and rushed forward toward the goal line while securing the ball. If you look closely you can see the Rams defender hitting kap right on the eye in the pile when the ball came lose. On the other hand we lost this game as a team. Let's take a look at key events: OL getting dominated, allowing 8 sacks and contributing to the fumble Borland blown coverage allowed the Rams to put up 7 points regardless of how well defense played. Our clutch punter chocked and his poor punt led to a Rams lead!!! Crabtree did not play well dispite kaps inaccuracy and still dropped balls Coaching staff did not adjust the game plan base on the OL performance fast enough After getting sacked 12 times in the past game and a half kap was panicked and rushed his throws with more velocity rather than control.
    Nov 6, 2014 at 8:29 AM
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  • Dwayne
    We have too many weapons on offense to be having this discussion. Kaep just isn't accurate enough and considering he wanted top qb salary makes it worst. Our game plan was not agressive and we should have just fed Gore (HOF) at the goal line. Again Kaeps production per pass attempt is terrible and he still locks onto one receiver, which answers why his production is so low per attempt.
    Nov 6, 2014 at 4:38 AM
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  • Phil
    I've been trying to get some fans to see this since 2013. Kap shuts down from the pocket in the redzone all too often and in clutch moments. He's part of the reson why this offense has lost games this season but some peoe refuse to see it. Have fun with your hate mail, because even suggesting such as you did here brings on people's ire.
    Nov 6, 2014 at 2:09 AM
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  • Christian
    You are right. Kap failed to execute on the two throws you mentioned. But at the same time, the vast majority of the team failed to execute at some point during the game. This was a team loss. Blame the coaches, gameplan, offense...and yes, defense.
    Nov 6, 2014 at 12:58 AM
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  • Scooter_McG
    The offensive players take no small part of the blame for this loss, particularly the OL, and you are absolutely right that Kaep had every opportunity to pull out the win at the end but didn't deliver. But the game plan certainly requires close scrutiny, and can have a large share of blame pinned to it.
    Nov 6, 2014 at 12:20 AM
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    Response: They made the adjustments at halftime and dialed up two perfect calls in crunch time. The QB didn't execute.
  • Kyle D
    Before you try and pin this on Kap, let's see him when the line actually plays at an NFL level for once this season. This O Line has been garbage in pass protection AND run blocking! I'm tired of this line living off the accolades of three years ago. And finally, Rombaugh DOES deserve some criticism. Their egos get in the way of a simpler, straight forward offensive scheme. Always trying to outsmart the world, but unfortunately outsmarting themselves. So tired of hearing "how many complex formations the 49ers run out of". None of which are working now!
    Nov 5, 2014 at 9:20 PM
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  • rhino
    Kaepernick is having the best season in his career thus far on a pure statistic basis. He did have 1 horrible game, but all of the great QB's go through that at times. How many 4 pick games did Favre have? You can't yell at a kid because of something his parents forced him to do. He is a running mobile QB. That won't change. They need to take the training Wheels off the bike and let him go. Protecting an investment works at the stock exchange, but not in football.
    Nov 5, 2014 at 8:27 PM
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    Response: Kaepernick's touchdown percentage and yards per attempt are all lower than a year ago.
  • NCommand
    Except all 8 sacks/initial pressures were at the 2 second mark. That's not on the QB on any level. Neither is the 15 hurries and damn near safety. How many other sacks did he avoid? Same exact patterns and issues for 3.5 years now. Everything starts with offensive philosophy and game planning and in game adjustments. Scrap the whole hot mess! It's a proven failure and the OL and WRs have quit on it.
    Nov 5, 2014 at 7:21 PM
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    Response: The 49ers have been a disaster in recent years haven't they? Almost unwatchable.
  • Razoreater
    @Hammer-"If you recall, I made the same suggestion during the bye week". Then he should have listened to you. It's a fly in the ointment....
    Nov 5, 2014 at 6:17 PM
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    Response: I agree.
  • Ninermd
    Make the adjustments Make your blocks Come in prepared after 2 weeks for a lesser opponent Catch passes Throw better passes Help the blind refs. Again this shouldn't have come down to nitpicking two throws. If it's a tougher playoff caliber team like Seattle you'd have a better point. This shouldn't have been close. So while were at the blame game. Let's blame Borland for his blown coverage that cost a TD. Everyone else stuck to their assignments. His mistake cost us 7 points. See how this goes?
    Nov 5, 2014 at 5:56 PM
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    Response: Seattle lost to the Rams too.
  • Razoreater
    I would sugget "Rombaugh" call more running plays from the spread....
    Nov 5, 2014 at 5:54 PM
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    Response: If you recall, I made the same suggestion during the bye week.
  • Razoreater
    These offensive tackles cannot hold up in pass pro when operating out of the spread formation. Maybe the pressing need instead of DE/OLB now....
    Nov 5, 2014 at 5:49 PM
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  • tee perez
    A fan wrote a comment that read, it seems like harbaugh is trying to FORCE Kaepernick to be a pocket passer, because thats what all the sports gurus SAY he should be ... my opinion is HE IS WHAT HE IS.... it worked for us last year, but injurys have hurt us. They need to let kaep be kaep, and they need to go with what they know in the redzone.... run that ball....if harbaugh is making mistakes then him and roman need to wake up, because US the FANS are tired of LOSING games we SHOULD win.... CHICAGO, ARIZONA, AND NOW THE RAMS.....
    Nov 5, 2014 at 5:36 PM
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  • Paul
    On one note the defense has been pretty good; especially with the injuries/suspensions. The offense looks solid in the first half, but does nothing in the second halves of most games. Need to speed up Kaepernicks processing. Manning and Brady can't run that well, but aren't constantly getting sacked. Sometimes he needs to throw it away, and live for another down. Sacks are drive killers. The Rams did that without Long on the D-line. Kaepernick should be running at least as much as Russell Wilson.
    Nov 5, 2014 at 5:34 PM
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  • Ant
    cant believe u want to blame a qb that was sacked 8 times I would like to see u get sacked 8 times and still throw accurate passes
    Nov 5, 2014 at 5:13 PM
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    Response: 2 easy throws that any professional QB should make.
  • Monsterniner
    Harbaugh and Roman built a power running offense and then they gave the keys to a dual threat QB. Now they want a spread offense and a pocket passer. Somebody explain me please.
    Nov 5, 2014 at 5:12 PM
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  • T
    Every big game we get into, the running game fails. Now we are trying to diversify our attack and things aren't going that good. I think it's something we got to be patient with. Kap's a young guy and has his deficiencies from the pocket which I feel limits Rombaugh, we are banking he gets better, he has to.
    Nov 5, 2014 at 4:50 PM
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  • Ninermd
    The two throws you're pointing out as the fault of the loss, shouldn't have been a factor vs a team that's not good. Two weeks to prepare for this team and they get stomped in the first half. So yeah I'll blame the coaches and offensive line for this loss. You like numbers what about ck's numbers his numbers show he had a decent game after being rushed all day and sacked 8 times. Point is they had two weeks to prepare and just played them 2 weeks prior, this game shouldn't have had to come down to nitpicking two throws.
    Nov 5, 2014 at 4:49 PM
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    Response: Make the throw when needed and nothing else matters. Should have been an easy pitch and catch.
  • Bryant
    You're right they both need to take the blame....I'm feel as J Rice says Harbaugh may not be there next year...perhaps Michigan ?
    Nov 5, 2014 at 4:38 PM
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  • Truth
    live and die with the quarterback. Kaep took us to the SB and to the playoffs last year yet you still want to call for his head halfway through the season? Com'on guys - greedy! Kaep so far 64.2% passing, 12 TDs. He's on pace for a better year... Jump off already the wagon, please! die hards only!
    Nov 5, 2014 at 4:33 PM
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    Response: Who's calling for the quarterbacks head?
  • Alex
    I blame Rombaugh for failing to adjust. Thr OL was awful and yet they continued to call 5 and 7 step drop pass plays and exposing Kap to hit after hit. Why not more quick strike 3 step drops and other blitz killing plays? Why not run the ball with Gore from the 1 yard line?
    Nov 5, 2014 at 4:28 PM
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    Response: If the QB made the throw there wouldn't have been any plays from the 1 to dissect.
  • rhino
    Please explain why Kaepernick is suddenly a pocket passer if play calling and coaching aren't an issue. I don't disagree that he could have played better in all 3 losses, but it doesn't explain his new handcuffs, why the running game is being used sparingly, or why you are the only team in the NFL that gets multiple delay of game penalties in every game. I remember Alex having the same issue of getting plays off under this coaching staff, but he's fine now in KC.
    Nov 5, 2014 at 4:27 PM
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  • rhino
    What about the playcalling in our other losses as well. They have been suspect all along. Even while Alex was under center.
    Nov 5, 2014 at 4:02 PM
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    Response: I wrote a piece following the Denver game detailing the failure to execute. Against Chicago the quarterback turned the ball over 4 times. In this instance the play calling at the end of the game put the team in position to be successful. The QB missed the throws.
  • werewuf
    Blame it on the QB? Baloney! The offensive line was completely incapable of protecting our QB and putting him into a position to succeed. All day long it was sack after sac. there is more going on and going wrong with the Niners than just simplifying the explanation this way, more will be revealed....
    Nov 5, 2014 at 3:41 PM
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    Response: There were no sacks on the last two drives. If the QB makes an accurate throw to Crabtree the 49ers are 5-3 right now.
  • Nick S.
    Jack, you should probably forward this to Jeff Kaplan...
    Nov 5, 2014 at 3:20 PM
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  • Jerry
    Finally the voice of reason. I'm so tired of all the talk about roman and harbaugh. I'm sure they aren't perfect but the failings of our QB are obvious. My concern is that we have put all our eggs in his basket and I am not seeing any improvement. Any thoughts on improvement that you have seen?
    Nov 5, 2014 at 3:08 PM
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  • Paul A.
    Jack, Correct! Watched the game for the third time this morning , and it became crystal clear that Mr. Kaepernick did not perform well when needed most this last week. This being his 3rd year in the position it would be expected that he would have command of the game at this point ,but he certainly does not look comfortable when the game gets tight.
    Nov 5, 2014 at 3:00 PM
    0

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