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49ers: Out-Thinking Themselves

Sep 24, 2003 at 12:00 AM


Terry Donahue and John York hired Dennis Erickson they did so amidst overtures of a more explosive and aggressive offense. The 49ers would now employ more three, four, and five wide receiver sets. They would open up the offense. We would return to the "glory days” of 49er post-season bliss.

Yet the staples of the west coast offense engrained into this storied franchise are hidden under all that public relations fluff.

My eight year-old brother knows that the west coast offense is predicated on short, quick, timely passes. The slant, the screen, and the wide receiver drag are the norm. When Mariucci held the reins of the offense, those things disappeared. All I remember seeing is Hearst and Barlow. The running game in and of itself is not a bad thing. Being one-dimensional is.

For so many years we saw Jerry Rice catch a slant pass and break it open for another 20 yards. Rice's average yards-per-catch was high not because he caught the deep ball, but because he had the ability to break any play open at any time. The west coast offense relies on wide receivers making plays.

Erickson was supposed to bring it all back. The glory, the offense, a new sense of ingenuity that would create a hybrid offense, a combination of the west coast system made famous here in San Francisco, and an aggressive deep attack.

What the 49ers got, however, was predictability.

Jeff Garcia said, "(The Browns) had the right calls for what we were trying to do and that didn't allow the ball to go in the end zone to T.O. That's how the game works sometimes."

How can the 49ers improve an offense if the defense knows what coming?

"There were plays that we called, but based on the defensive coverage ... it's not like you can just call a play and say, 'We're going to throw it to T.O. in this situation.' You also have to consider what the defense is doing."

And on Sunday, the Browns' defense did it right.

Now for the fist time in recent memory, the offense has to rely on the defense. Jim Mora's unit has played 3 great games. Sure, there is the occasional lapse here and there, but on the whole the defense is playing with renewed vigor behind a healthy Jaime Winborn. Sunday's outcome cannot be attributed to the all too familiar pass interference penalties on Mike Rumph, or on the Browns' final drive, or even on Jim Mora's play calling.

"They kept a (running) back and tight end in for protection," Mora said.  "If we were going to send a blitz, we would have to send eight guys, that's an all-out blitz."

There are limits to what the 49er's banged up secondary can do. The defense can do most of it, but it's called a football TEAM.

It all falls on the shoulders of the offense. For a head coach who is known as an offensive guru, this problem should be a quick fix. Get back to the west coast basics. Throw the slants, throw the screens, and for god sakes roll Garcia out. It's no secret that he is more comfortable and more accurate outside the pocket. I get a little worried when I can tell you what play the Niners are going to run simply by their formation.

One can only blame injuries for so long. The best teams always overcome adversity to win when they have to. The 1994 49ers showed us what that meant after a humiliating loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The 2001 49ers showed us again winning overtime game after overtime game on their way to a 12-4 regular season mark. The level of tenacity on this year's squad will make or break the season.

The 2003 49ers are better than the Rams, they are better than the Browns, and they are better than they have been playing. Special teams are finally back after being MIA for a couple of seasons. The defense is there and even the kicking game might be there. Now, the offense is sputtering.

Erickson must realize that his personnel is suited for a specific type of offense. Garcia is mobile; instead of making him sit in the pocket on a seven-step drop make him get rid of the ball after three steps. It would help, being as the offensive line is banged up. Three steps, five steps at most, then release the ball to Owens on a slant. Let him break a couple and show why he's the best in the game. Roll Garcia out near the goal line. If Garcia is going to play with a "dive head first” mentality, it might as well be a dive into the end zone.

Erickson's time is now. He has to show the fans that HIS team has what it takes. Cut down on the penalties, execute, and get back to the basics. If Erickson concentrates too much on the razzle-dazzle, the 5-wide sets, and the vertical passing game, he will have the 49ers out-thinking themselves. Use what works, its called "what works” for a reason. The rest will fall nicely into place.
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.


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