This is my Saturday column.
I bet you dimes to donuts the 49ers open Sunday’s game against the Saints with a running play.
I don’t know this for a fact. I don’t sit in the 49ers’ offensive meetings. But I do know that the past two games — both losses — Greg Roman called 79 passes and 39 runs, a 2-to-1 ratio of passes to runs and, as a result, the 49ers’ offensive line gave up 14 sacks. Greg Roman is aware of this. Everyone at 4949 Centennial Blvd. is aware of this.
If Roman calls a run on the very first play, the 49ers’ offensive line can get in the first punch, can hit the Saints’ defensive line in the mouth. That’s how the 49ers should start this game. Don’t let the defensive players take the initiative. Hit them hard. The first impression is a lasting impression.
Passing on the first play allows the defense to take the initiative. Pass protection is passive by nature — three-hundred-pound offensive linemen tap dancing backwards away from the line of scrimmage, allowing smaller, quicker, faster, defensive players to penetrate the backfield and generate speed and then punch them. The defensive players always have the advantage when it comes to sheer aggression. Take it away from them.
The 300-pound offensive linemen have the advantage in the run game. It’s the nature of football. Anthony Davis is about 330 pounds. Let him inflict pain on the Saints’ defensive end. Let pain be the Saints’ first impression. And second impression. And final impression.
If Roman uses five wide receivers on the first play or on lots of plays, he’s asking for trouble, the same trouble he asked for and got last week from the Rams. If Roman uses five wideouts, the defensive end doesn’t have to worry about a tight end smacking him in his earhole. The defensive end can rush unimpeded. Five-wide-receiver spread formations give the defensive end nothing to worry about. Roman must make the defensive end worry.
Roman has to make the Saints’ defensive linemen helmet-readers.
What are helmet-readers?
Helmet-readers react to a run-first offense. They expect the offense to run and they read the helmets to find out where the run blocking is going. They are not aggressive. They are not penetrators. They are 100 percent reactive. They absorb the first punch. They keep their feet parallel to the line of scrimmage, and that gives them less forward momentum. Once the defensive linemen are helmet-readers, Colin Kaepernick will have all the time he needs in the pocket.
The 49ers failed to make the Rams’ defensive linemen helmet-readers last week. The Rams often were the exact opposite of helmet-readers. They lined up in “jet stances,” one leg back behind the other like sprinters anticipating the gun before a race. Then they “jetted” up field once the ball was snapped. They weren’t reading helmets. They were concerned only with crushing Colin Kaepernick. And they did just that.
Greg Roman didn’t make them pay. He invited the jet stances. Roman called 17 passes and just three runs on second down against the Rams. On second down, the Rams sacked Kaepernick four times and forced him to fumble once. If Roman called runs instead of passes, those sacks wouldn’t have happened. You can’t get sacked on a run play.
Greg, it’s OK to call runs on second down. Really, it is. Frank Gore is averaging 4.7 yards per carry on second down this season. That’s very good, Greg. Give him the ball on second down. Give him the ball on first down, too. Just give him the ball.
What are you saving him for? The playoffs?
This just in. If you lose to the Saints, you probably won’t make the playoffs.
I understand Gore is 31 years old and you want to limit how many hits he takes. It’s just that hits are unavoidable. He takes hits when he blocks blitzers in pass protection and he takes hits when he runs into the line on play-action passes. He has to take hits, so let him take them while he runs between the tackles and sets up third-and-short for your offense. Third-and-2 is better than third-and-7. Kaepernick’s passer rating on third-and-2 or shorter is 148.
And remember this: When a tough running back runs, sure he gets hit, but he also gives hits, makes tacklers suffer, inflicts pain. Frank Gore is the greatest pain inflictor in 49ers history. Let Gore be Gore.
A football weighs only 11.3 ounces. It’s not like Gore has to carry a ton of bricks. Give him the ball, Greg. The season depends on it. So does your job.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.