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The Singletary Offense Is Alive, and It’s Killing Us

Nov 3, 2009 at 5:58 AM12

Okay. Now I'm mad.

What, wasn't he watching? Last week in Houston? We put in Alex Smith, we stretched the field, we threw every down, and out of the blue our offense exploded. The turn was so quick, so complete, and so effective, I actually had the gall to assume this was it. Singletary might love to run, but now he'd realize that running just isn't our game. Now he'd see that a coach's job is to coach to the strengths of his players, and like it or not, his players' strengths are to pass. Now he'd understand that winning's more important than a stubborn adherence to a dated philosophy.

I just assumed he'd get it.

Sure, Jimmy Raye said that there wouldn't be changes, but I didn't buy it; he said that just to distract the Colts. He knew the difference between Smith and Shaun Hill. He saw what Smith could do in that spread. And he also sorta gave himself away, when he said the words we'd longed to hear: "We're not going to be stubborn and try to jam a square peg into a round hole."

We knew what that meant. We'd been trying to jam in that peg all season. No more. Now we're gonna do what we're built for. We're gonna open it up and let it fly.

And the Colts are in for a surprise.

Opening series. First down, Frank Gore up the middle. Second down, Frank Gore up the middle. Third down, incomplete pass. Fourth down, punt.


After a Gore home-run on the next series (that's three on the season, his only three half-decent runs of the year), it was back to reality. Third series, Gore up the middle on second and 13, on the way to a three-and-out. Fourth series, a bunch of passing, but nothing out of the spread, and see? An interception! So, fifth series: run, run, pass, punt; ah, that's the stuff. Sixth series, a run up the middle on second and 20, guaranteeing yet another three-and-out. Seventh series, another run on first down, still another three-and-out.

No changes indeed.

But oh, that eighth series. Less than two minutes left in the half, so now we whip out the offense that works. We spread 'em out, put Smith in the gun. And wouldn't ya know it, even without Joe Staley, we march down the field. Michael Crabtree for 27. Isaac Bruce for 12. Vernon Davis for 10. Gore for 15 and 4, and Davis for the touchdown.

I'm not trying to sound like a smartass. But I seriously think that a five-year-old would've gotten the message. This is our offense. This is the offense that works.

A five-year-old, maybe. But not Mike Singletary.

Needless to say, we didn't see that offense again. And by sheer coincidence, we didn't score again either. And perhaps most tragically, we wasted a truly magnificent defense. I don't know if Peyton Manning's ever been so frustrated. We sacked him more than he'd been sacked all year. For the first time this season, he didn't throw a touchdown pass. And in their building, we held the Colts to 18 points. You have no business expecting more from your defense than that.

But Singletary just kept asking more. He had his 14 points, and he sat on 'em and sat on 'em until they weren't enough. And by then we couldn't recover.

Granted, we had a couple of decent second-half drives, one killed by a fumble and the other a sack. And yeah, we passed 32 times and ran only 18, so it wasn't how much we ran that hurt us. It was when. On three drives, we ran on both first and second downs. And twice when we tried to pass on first downs, we ran on second and 13 and second and 20. All of these were drive-killers. All of these set up obvious passing third-downs, the hardest plays of all to convert.

Understand this. We ran only 18 times, but we still used the run to set up the pass. And because we couldn't run (2.9 yards per rush other than Gore's bomb), we couldn't convert those obvious passes.

And we did all this while sitting on a pass-first offense that seems to work whenever we use it. It works whenever we use it, and except for one drive, we simply kept it on ice.

I don't think Singletary's dumb, but I don't have another word for what he's doing. It's almost halfway through the season. Aside from Gore's three homers, we're gaining only three yards per rush, worse than any other team in the league. Yet we continue to run ourselves into third downs, which we convert better than only three other teams. And we continue to do it to control the ball, but with all the three-and-outs, our time-of-possession rank is 19th.

And yeah, I blame Singletary, not Raye. As I've written before, Raye's as much a Zampese disciple as Norv Turner and Mike Martz. He's proven he can run a pass-first offense when it suits his personnel. But Singletary fired Martz for running a pass-first offense, and he scared off a half-dozen candidates who couldn't stomach his run-first philosophy. Raye's here for one reason, and one reason only: he's willing to do what Singletary tells him, even though Singletary's got no offensive pedigree at all.

So is it any wonder that Singletary came off the field in Indy and declared that his offense "looked sharp"? Does it surprise you that he said he supports what Raye's doing, "150 percent"? Of course he did. This is his team, and this is his offense. And if he's not gonna run his offense, then why should this be his team?

Maybe it shouldn't. In case you haven't heard, Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren, and Jon Gruden are out of work. (Monday Night Football doesn't count.) All three are offensive wizards, all three with roots in 49er glory. When I think about the prospect of letting all three go to other teams, while we're stuck here with this, I feel literally sick.

If Singletary's too ignorant to recognize his players' strengths, too arrogant to give the team's success a higher priority than his own identity, too stubborn to admit that he's got no business involved in an offense...

...I trust that Jed'll bring one of those three kings home.
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.


  • bbar
    So, let me get this straight. We can't use the spread offense, because defenses will adjust. Instead, we stick with the often publicized game plan of run first, against eight in the box. Am I being naive?
    Nov 6, 2009 at 11:12 PM
    Response: Nope, you've got it exactly. As bad as Singletary's comments were immediately after the game, Raye's comments this week were even worse. When the defense is geared up to stop one thing, that's when you hit 'em with another; and when the defense adjusts to stop the other, then you hit 'em with the one. That's the chess match that successful coaches must figure out, and OUR coaches don't seem to understand it. OF COURSE the spread might not work once the defense adjusts; but once the defense adjusts, then you'll do better with your power running game. We're refusing to use what'll force the defense to adjust, and instead we're sticking with what the defense has already adjusted to. This is the kind of thing that rightly gets coaches fired.
  • ShaneO
    lol how did you know i went to jail? JK, but thank you brother, you're my fav writer and i always look forward to chattin football with ya, so that means a lot to me. i have LOVED 9er football since i was 6! I decided to stay on vaca for a few extra days cuz hey i got a cool career but frankly not as cool as yours! U hit the nail right on the head, that return was just an exclamation point on everything we talked about. I'm not sure what we are going to do there, but it's been a good day, i wanna shed some cheer! i watched the tape when i got back home, Sims looked ok. any chance he finds a calling as an ABOVE AVERAGE LT, hmmm. maybe between time and smith's quick feet the line, which i have bitched bout all yr, starts to come together. honestly and i have no fact or real reason to say this other than pure gut, SOMETHING tells me SING will come around cuz i cldnt agree more this disgrace of an off. is on him. but let's just pretend the offense DID open up n the line comes together... i looked at the schedule, i see 2 more losses. @ philly and i'll leave one open for Zona or @ GB (but neither unbeatable) and a 7-2 finish puts us at 10-6. last 2 games Det n STL. Can u feel it in the air? What if?
    Nov 6, 2009 at 2:20 PM
  • ShaneO
    Jeff, i would argue if i could. 30 hrs driving, for some reason believing the whole time this would be the upset of the year, hey cuz that's what i do. at halftime i called my friend, told him it was going to happen. called him again up 14-12 and told him it was over, the colts had it. for all the reasons you just said. we talked before of the return game being a terrible weakness and it proved to be a thorn in our side. Jones fielding that punt at the 3 made me wanna throw up my chili cheese dogs. Field position was a huge problem a lot of the day. maybe it's just me, maybe you noticed this as well, i feel like our inability to STOP third downs as much as our inability to convert them is hurting us. Now the D did everything overall you cld ask of them but if i had to be a little picky i felt like every third n long i wld look at my girl n say don't worry they will pick this up. by the 4th quarter i think she believed i was psychic! it felt very bend but don't break. n the thing is that was cool but not with an offense that refuses to open. here is an idea, don't use jones to return punts, can't be mad at him it's not his job, but use him at WR! my GF was yellin throw the ball 4 god sake!
    Nov 5, 2009 at 6:08 PM
    Response: Hey Shane. I actually thought of you when Jones made that catch, and when you didn't comment with your usual speed I was worried that you'd gotten so pissed you were stuck in an Indianapolis jail! Some return game, eh? Jones makes a catch at the three and Clements goes out for six weeks; our release of Rossum looks worse all the time. And yeah, our D does tend to go a little passive at times, but as you say, if you hold Manning to 18 points you'll take your chances. It's this damned offense that's just a killer, and all we've gotten from the coaches is a bunch of feeble excuses for why we can't change it. Just depressing. But I'm proud of you for making that trip to support our guys. You're a true fan.
  • undercenter
    My understanding, there is only a limited amount of plays the Niners have for the spread and if it wasn't installed back in spring then it's not in their system. So their concern seems to be once the defenses adjust then it won't be so effective. If the defenses adjust then that should really help out the run game. It seems to me why can't you add a few more plays to the spread even this late into the season. After all, these players are paid very well for their effort and seems to me they should be able to absorb a few more plays. One a week would be fine. Let's not forget tho that the niners could easily be 6-1. Three of those losses were winnable in the fourth quarter. That is still a marked improvement over past years. Played both the Colts and Viks tough and they are among the elite teams this year. The team is coming along but we are not there quite yet. Kind of reminds me of the early Walsh years. Walsh had the offense but no defense in the first couple of years. Singletary has a defense but hopefully an emerging offense.
    Nov 4, 2009 at 8:02 PM
  • Sig
    Nov 4, 2009 at 6:15 AM
  • Sddave
    Good job Jeff. I feel the same way. It is sickening to see how stubborn Singletary really is. The Prevent Offense is not working and never will in the present NFL. In week 8, 10 teams scored over 30 points. In week 7, 9 teams scored over 30 points. I wonder if maybe his pattern recognition might be a bit off. To think we can hold onto a 4 point lead against the Colts or any team with a decent passing offense is insane. The Prevent Offense kept us from wins in Minnesota, Houston and Indy. Sad.
    Nov 3, 2009 at 1:41 PM
  • niner
    Sing should learn from Bruce Lee. He told a guy who broke boards "boards don't fight back." Saying you were going to get a bunch of first and 2nd rd OL and impose their will with an "f" on other teams' D is BS. You mean the other team is going to say "oh my gosh i give up"? Give me a break, this OL is pitiful (< 2 yards per carry) and they can't pass protect to save their lives, and with the latest injuries it's even worse. Maybe focusing on the OL (110 sacks in last 2 years) and fixing it would be a good place to start. (an OL coach who isn't taken off the refuse pile would be good.) Hey Scotty isn't 6 years enough, if you can't do it let's get someone else! DON'T TELL ME SHOW ME!
    Nov 3, 2009 at 12:30 PM
  • shobbrobb
    You act surprised. Wasn't this to be expected. When those other coordinators left town, he tried to get Dan Reeves and then Kurt Warner made up his mind 45 mins into the meeting, it became obvious that his offensive philosophy was a major problem, and when he declared over and over again that we were gonna run a "smashmouth" offense with one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, i knew he was delirious. This was predictable from the start, how can any realistic person not expect what has transpired. Again really are u surprised?
    Nov 3, 2009 at 11:41 AM
  • Dan
    Predictable is a good description for the 49ers offense. our defence got burned on a trick play to the end zone, it was pretty bad. Celebrating got us for 3 points, seemed along the line of Dre Bly against Atlanta costing himself a touchdown. The 49ers are not acting like professionals. After you score a touchdown you should keep your head in the game and focus on the next touchdown. Same with interceptions. The referees were killing us. Alex Smith seemed accurate and Manning didn't get anything into the end zone. I don't even know what to say about this one. At least it was close most of the game. I'm sure most of the country would have expected a blow-out.
    Nov 3, 2009 at 10:42 AM
  • URAlwayswrong
    You're right, it had everything to do with not being in shotgun in the first half and running on 2nd-13 or 2nd-20. The Crabtree fumble and TD celebration penalty had NOTHING to do with it. Jeez, you're a moron.
    Nov 3, 2009 at 10:02 AM
  • Nebula
    Shanahan and Holmgren are done, look at the win loss record of Shanahan his last 3 years it's sad, you just see the name and get excited. A perfect example is Joe Gibbs, he used to be a good coach but look what happened when he tried coming back. We are headed in the right direction, remember Sing is a rookie head coach, there are gonna be some growing pains.
    Nov 3, 2009 at 9:16 AM
  • Swim4speed
    I totally agree! I blame Singletary and his stubborn ways too. I wanted Shanahan the day he got fired. I thought the Niners acted too quickly in hiring Singletary. 2-3 days later, Shanahan was available. I would love to have Shanahan or Holmgren. Gruden would be okay.
    Nov 3, 2009 at 9:00 AM

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