It wasn’t that long ago that San Francisco 49ers’ offensive coordinator Greg Roman was one of the hottest names in the NFL. Along with head coach Jim Harbaugh, Roman had revitalized the career of Alex Smith and helped shape Colin Kaepernick‘s rise to stardom. If not for a trip to the Super Bowl, there is a strong possibility he would have been chosen as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars (they went with Gus Bradley instead in January before the 49ers had finished their season).
What a difference a year makes. While Roman’s name was red hot this time last season, it couldn’t be any colder right now as the 49ers’ offense has under performed for much of 2013. How bad has it been?
The 49ers rank dead last in total passing yards per game with 2318. To put that into perspective, teams like the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders (who have virtually no offensive weapons) rank ahead of San Francisco. While they currently stand at 6th in the league with 1732 yards rushing, that’s not enough to bring them any higher than 28th overall in total yards with 4050.
With the inability to throw the ball comes the inability to sustain drives. The Niners are 28th in the league in first downs with 225 and have the fewest through the air with 114. Part of the reason for that is that the 49ers have only completed 191 passes all season (14.6 per game) which is also last in the NFL. The next closest team (the Jets) have completed 213. It should be noted that San Francisco has also attempted the fewest passes at 333 but that doesn’t completely account for the lack of production. For example, the Seattle Seahawks have only attempted 8 more throws (341) but have 30 more completions than the 49ers (221) and 478 more yards (2796) in total passing.
While pundits search for reasons why this has happened, they can point to everything from play design, to Kaepernick not seeing the field, or even to the fact that Roman often calls an ultra conservative game. Whether it is one, some, or all of these reasons, the 49ers have to find a way to fix the problem if they have any serious aspirations at the Super Bowl. While the defense has been outstanding of late (they are only allowing 13.5 points per game over the last six contests) it’s too much to ask for them to shut opponents down week in and week out without some help from the other side of the ball.
What can Roman do about this?
He can start by changing the way he uses Kaepernick. The 49ers have turned one of the most unique quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen into an average drop back passer who is only managing 191 yards passing a game. It’s like Roman has the keys to an expensive sports car but is afraid to drive over 30 mph because he might dent it. Take an example from Week 14’s game with the Seahawks. San Francisco faced a 3rd and 1 from Seattle’s five yard line in the first quarter. Situations like that one are a perfect time to use Kaepernick’s skills set. Roman could have rolled him out, used a play fake, a simply run the quarterback. Instead, he called a play to hand the ball to his fullback, Bruce Miller. The fullback was stopped and the 49ers were forced to settle for three points.
Another area in which Roman can improve is actually letting his playmakers make plays. For example, Vernon Davis has been targeted five times or less in seven of the 12 games he’s played this season. In the five games he’s had over five targets, Davis has 498 yards and six touchdowns. The 49ers are 5-0 and have averaged just under 32 points per game. Davis is arguably the most talented weapon the 49ers have, the fact that he is an after thought at times is mind boggling.
There is still time left for Roman to show that he has the ability to get the most out of his weapons. The 49ers have three games remaining this season and, barring a collapse, should make the playoffs. However, if the 49ers fail to reach their goal of returning to the Super Bowl because of an inability to move the football, Harbaugh has to think long and hard if Roman is the right man for the job.
Photo Credit: AP
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