We’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we?
Early in the 2013 season, the San Francisco 49ers appeared to be changing the focus and philosophy of their offense, by de-emphasizing the power running game in favor of a more pass-heavy attack. The results were catastrophic, as the team dropped back-to-back games in Weeks 2 and 3, while only managing 10 points.
You would think that the team would learn from past mistakes, but they seemed to fall into old habits against the Arizona Cardinals in a 23-14 Week 3 loss.
Granted, without tight ends Vernon Davis or Vance McDonald available due to injury, the offense was going to have to adjust and stray from the usual two-tight end sets that are a trademark of a Jim Harbaugh offense.
Initially, things looked good.
The 49ers came out and ran no-huddle, while spreading the field with four and five-wide receiver sets. The Cardinals didn’t appear ready for such packages and were clearly on their heals early. Colin Kaepernick looked comfortable with the buffet of receivers, going 14-of-18 for 116 yards in the first half. He also ran the ball 9 times for 45 yards. San Francisco scored a touchdown on each of its first two drives, going up 14-6 after two quarters.
Like any well-coached team would do, the Cardinals adjusted once the staff saw what was coming, even assigning a defender to spy Kaepernick. The 49ers, however, failed to counter punch.
Greg Roman and company declined to make the proper adjustments and the result was another second half collapse in which the offense struggled to score points. In this case, they were shut out in the third and fourth quarter.
Sloppy and undisciplined play (on defense and special teams as well) contributed to the malaise, as did questionable play calling.
Similar to the 49ers’ out-of-character approach early in 2013, Roman completely abandoned handing the ball to his running backs, making the the attack one-dimensional and ineffective.
Frank Gore was only given six carries on the day (and only has 35 the entire season), while upstart Carlos Hyde only had three. Looking deeper, Gore didn’t touch the ball once after the 14:23 mark of the third quarter and the team only ran five designed running plays in the second half. Considering it was basically a one score game until 29 seconds remaining, that approach is just inexcusable.
If the 49ers can take one thing away from this, it’s that Kaepernick had one of his best days throwing the football. His 29 completions and 78.4 completion percentage were both career-highs, and he didn’t throw an interception in 37 tosses. However, he only averaged 6.6 yards per attempt, which is well below his 7.8 career average.
Will the 49ers return to a power running approach next week? If history tells is anything, they probably will.
After only getting 20 carries total in Weeks 2 and 3 last season, Gore responded with 20 in Week 4 alone for 153 yards. With the team needing to right the ship, a return the their roots seems like a good place to start.
Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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