Offensive Predictability Spells Doom for the 49ers

Sep 16, 2004 at 12:00 AM


Don't you hate it when your buddy pulls out that argument? You know...THAT argument? It is a time-tested response between two people arguing over the effectiveness of a coach and it goes a little something like this, "Well I didn't see (insert head coach here) out there on the field. So there, take that. Try and beat THAT argument."

There is some truth to the fact that the head coach doesn't strap on some pads and knock some heads. (Although the thought of Ray Lewis knocking the snot out of the beloved Mariucci is worth a chuckle.) But if the coach doesn't matter then the position wouldn't exist. If the head coach didn't matter, you wouldn't see people like Bill Parcells, Dick Vermeil, Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs take perennial doormats and turn them into teams that still have something to play for in December.

A good head coach puts his team in a position to win every week. He does so with two things. First is a game plan based on his team's strength's and the opponent's weaknesses. In addition to putting together the game plan, the head coach is the head strategist on game day - placing his players on a hundred-yard chessboard, searching the king out for a knockout blow. Play calling is an essential component of a good head coach.

After week one of the 2004 season, it looks as though Dennis Erickson needs to re-evaluate his play-calling strategy.

Take the first three quarters for example, before the 49ers went willy-nilly and threw the ball on every down. The 49ers had 20 first down opportunities. Of those 20, 13 were rushing plays. One was a screen pass to Lloyd that just as well may have been a run. Predictability is definitely creeping into the defense's mind, especially when 3 of the first 4 first down plays in the first quarter are rushing plays.

Okay, maybe the game plan was to run the ball; I can understand that (despite the fact that Atlanta's rushing defense was ranked 9th, and their pass defense was ranked 29th this preseason). Here's what befuddles me: during the first three quarters when the 49ers rushed the ball on first down they averaged 2.86 yards a play. When the 49ers passed the ball on first down they averaged 11.43 yards per play. One would think that given the success of the passing game Erickson would have started the second half with more of a pass heavy attack. What did Erickson call the next four times the 49ers had a first down? Yep, you guessed it - they ran it.

Even a football novice could see that the air attack was more effective than the ground game. Nevertheless, Erickson stuck with the anemic rushing attack until the fourth quarter when the 49ers had no choice but to pass. It was obvious that the pass should be used to set-up the run, just like Bill Walsh used to do. The fact that Erickson was unable to see that, even after half time only makes me wonder about Erickson's football acumen. It's one thing to stick to a game plan. It's another to be so rigid that it costs you a game.

Sure, you could say that Rattay's interception cost the 49ers the game. But if Erickson would have capitalized upon the opportunities before him would it have come down to that play? Would the 49ers have been trailing, or would they have put together some drives to get more points?

One thing is certain, if Erickson stays this predictable opposing defenses will have no problem stopping an offense that needs all the help it can get.
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.


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