What was the deciding factor of the game yesterday? The San Francisco 49ers fell to the Carolina Panthers by a score of 10-9. Why did the 49ers lose this game they could have won? The blame could go to Colin Kaepernick, the wide receivers, the offensive line, Kendall Hunter, or all the praise could go to the Panthers’ defense. It takes pride to admit that it was nothing you did, it’s just that you were overpowered by your opponent. And that is partially what happened on Sunday. But the Panthers’ defense didn’t do it alone. They had help. And no it wasn’t the Panthers’ offense or their coaches or even anything on the Panthers’ sideline. They Panthers were helped by the very coaches they were playing against: the 49ers’ coaching staff.
The defensive side of the ball gets a pass this time. The defense played lights out even with a couple injuries on the line. They held the red-hot Cam Newton and the Carolina offense to 10 measly points. In fact, the Panthers didn’t even enter inside the 49ers’ 25-yard line once for the entire game. My gripe is with Greg Roman, Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the offensive coaching staff.
Jim Harbaugh is a former professional quarterback. He is supposed to be an offensive-minded coach that will be able to draft a great offensive game plan. Greg Roman is supposed to be a offensive genius that can come up with hundreds of different plays and formations that will beat defenses. Hell, they even hired Eric Mangini to come in and help the offense by giving insight to what opposing defenses will try to do against the offense.
With all this attention to the offensive side of the ball, you would think they would be able to come up with an effective offense. Yes, they put up more than 30 points in their last five games. That’s great, but look at the 49ers’ three losses. The Seahawks, the Colts and the Panthers. Three potential playoff teams with real defenses. In each of these games, the 49ers put up three, seven and nine points. If the 49ers want to win anything, they need to be able to put up points against good teams with good defenses.
The 49ers’ offense has been praised for its complexity and its ability to confuse defenses. We haven’t been seeing that. We’ve been seeing the coaches confuse themselves. In all of these formations and shifts and trickiness, the coaches have lost themselves. They seemed to have forgotten the basics of football. They are trying so hard to outsmart their opponents, they’re losing sight of the simple concepts of football. Yes, sometimes it works to shift three different players three different times to create mismatches. And sometimes it results in a delay of game penalty or a wasted timeout.
What are some of the first routes they teach kids when they start playing football? Outs, ins, curls, slants. It might be cliche, but the 49ers need to get back to the basics. They need to focus on the fundamentals of the game. When the pass rush is in the backfield immediately after the snap the entire game, you don’t send your receivers on 15-yard routes. Short, quick passes and screens are what beats the pressure. The 49ers’ coaching staff has seemed to forgotten this.
I’ve read some places on the web where fans are saying: “They’re running Alex Smith’s offense. They need to change.” I don’t agree with this. They are not running his offense, but they should be. I might get some flak for this since his name is a curse word for some fans, but this is exactly what the 49ers need. They need short passes that get first downs and help drive down the field. They don’t need 30 yards each pass. Kaepernick needs help finding open receivers and the receivers need help getting open. Kaepernick is getting very little time in the pocket and the receivers aren’t getting enough separation to be throwing the ball down the field all game. They need plays that help them get first downs and convert third downs. The 49ers cannot continue to go backwards on first and second down and fail to convert third downs. They need plays that at least make third downs manageable.
When opposing defenses are getting pressure right in your quarterback’s face all game, you need something to take the heat off. Don’t give them time to get there. Screens, drags, slants, these are what need to be done. This is how Peyton Manning makes a living. He’ll throw quick, short crossing routes or slants or screens that essentially make the pass rush useless. He isn’t avoiding getting sacked a lot because he’s scrambling away from defenders. He’s getting the ball out quickly. And then once the defense starts playing up is when you try and throw it over the top.
Yesterday, when the 49ers were pinned on their own 1-yard line on third-and-10, they threw a quick slant that got them the first down. The very next play, they called the same old types of plays that require time to develop, and Kaepernick gets sacked. It just makes no sense that the coaches still haven’t learned this. All three of the 49ers’ losses have been for the same reasons and the coaches are adamant on not changing up the playcalling. If the 49ers want to win games, something has to change.
Now I’m not “hating” on the coaches. They’re still good coaches and they can’t do everything. They aren’t getting much help from the players. They can only get the players into position. They can’t make them execute. Kaepernick isn’t playing well, the offensive line isn’t playing well, and the receivers certainly aren’t playing well. That isn’t the coaches fault. But the coaches are responsible for putting their players in situations that help them succeed. That’s what the coaches are failing at, and that’s what needs to change.