Writing for a team that you love dearly after one of their worst losses in recent memory is a difficult task. How do we change this? We focus on what we need to do to get back to success. The 49ers offense is in the midst of a youthful infusion, spearheaded by phenomenal quarterback talent, Colin Kaepernick. While Kaepernick has the ability to make an offensive coordinator gush, the 49ers must get back to basics if they are to realize their quest for six in 2013.
In last Sunday’s drubbing against Seattle, the 49ers ran the read-option often, perhaps doing so to give Kaepernick the ability to decide the outcome of a play at his behest – providing a way to combat the record-setting decibel level at Century Link Field. While the idea makes sense, it is an exorbitant amount of trust to place in the hands of a young quarterback – even one as good as Kaepernick. In order for the 49ers to be the smash-mouth, rock ‘em sock ‘em type team we are all familiar with, they need to start with the legs of running back Frank Gore.
Gore is on pace for 480 rushing yards in 2013, down almost 800 (!!!) yards from last year’s total of 1,214. He is currently averaging only 2.0 YPC, and is lending credence to the idea that his 30-year-old legs are beginning to slow down. Kaepernick has rushed for 109 yards in two games, and cannot continue to be the leading rusher for this team if there is to be long-term success.
While I am still a firm believer in Gore, he has displayed a lack of explosion this season, and may very well be reaching the twilight of his career. Having this lack of run production from the running back position will not equal offensive success. While I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, the 49ers lack of prosperity in the run game has severely diminished the effectiveness of play action. The 49ers needed to pound the Seahawks into submission on Sunday, much like they did last October in their 13-6 victory at Candlestick. The 49ers rushed for 175 yards in that game, with Gore and Kendall Hunter combining for 162 of those rushing yards.
In this past Sunday’s loss, the 49ers ran for only 100 rushing yards – with 87 of them coming from the legs of escape artist Colin Kaepernick. They were mostly scramble yards, with very few of them coming from the read-option. By not being the rushing powerhouse that they have been since Harbaugh’s arrival in 2011, the 49ers are no longer striking fear into the heart of opposing defenses. The run game tires out opponents, and makes the entire playbook that much more effective.
One of the biggest issues for this 49ers offense is the glaring lack of play action calls. When in pro sets, the 49ers are almost guaranteed to run the ball. They need to use these sets more often so they can carry out the play action, something that would’ve kept Seattle defenders at bay. The 49ers need to let the offense evolve at its own pace with Kaepernick – not force change when the past has been tried and proven.
By no means am I suggesting that offensive coordinator Greg Roman is doing a bad job. What I am suggesting, though, is that he is over-thinking his play calls and needs to recover the 49ers lost identity by sticking with what brought them to prominence. One of the biggest momentum changes against the Seahawks last Sunday was when the 49ers attempted to throw from their end zone, then drawing a flag on a hold (Bruce Miller), yielding a safety and a change of possession in a game that was riddled with defensive stops. I also believe that if we used the run at least twice in the final possession in last year’s Super Bowl loss, that we would be talking of a quest for seven, not six, in 2013.
The 49ers are not in trouble. They are still the deepest team in the league, but they need to stick with their identity, not stray away from it. I envision the 49ers getting Gore and Hunter involved early and often this Sunday, with Kaepernick showcasing his skills only when necessary, but still having a strong game. Having only one proven receiver in the rotation is very easy to defend without a competent rushing attack. Not only will Anquan Boldin rise from the ashes this Sunday, tight end Vernon Davis (if cleared for play; if not, Vance McDonald) will as well. In a league that is rife with change, the 49ers and Harbaugh must continue to display the hard-nosed mentality that Niner Nation has grown fond of. Get back to basics boys, and watch the wins pile up on your way to six.