This is my Wednesday column.
I want to help the 49ers.
Not because I root for them. I don’t. I root for the highest level of play and coaching. I root for perfection. I cannot bear to watch a team underperform.
I’m a mere journalist, but I sincerely want to help Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman if I can. So here goes. Their offense should be better than it is. It should be one of the best offenses in football this season.
Funny thing is, before halftime, the Niners’ offense actually is one of the best in football. It is averaging 6.2 yards per play in the first half. To put that into perspective, the Broncos are averaging 6.4 yards per play in the first half. And that means, in the first half, the 49ers are pretty close to perfection.
But in the second half, the Niners are averaging just 4.4 yards per play. The sad-sack Raiders are averaging almost a half-yard more per play in the second half than the 49ers. Unfathomable.
It gets worse.
Nine games into the season, the Niners’ first-string offense still hasn’t scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Unheard of.
The players aren’t falling asleep after the second quarter. The problem is clear. Opposing defensive coordinators are figuring out the Niners’ offense. Part of that is Roman’s fault, part of that is not. Let’s start with the part that is.
Roman fires all of his bullets before halftime. He saves no new plays for the second half. That’s a no-no. If you show everything in the first half, the other team will adjust, figure out creative ways to stop your plays, and you won’t have anything new to surprise them with. Almost all good offenses hold back plays.
Defenses adjust faster and faster as technology improves. Every player has his own Microsoft Surface tablet (like an iPad) on the sideline. This is new this season. Players scroll through a photo gallery of footage on their tablets and study seriously between series. They’re not looking around for the cheerleaders.
Players don’t have to rely on a coach explaining something or drawing something on a chalk board. Players can see everything for themselves. When they return to the locker room for halftime, they’ve already seen and digested what the coaches want to teach them.
When Roman game-plans during the week, he must make a concerted effort to spring something on the defense later in the game. Something flashy, like a flea flicker, or something subtle, like a new shift or formation or personnel grouping. Or something humble. But it has to be something unexpected.
Roman must let the players know what the second-half surprise will be as they go through meetings during the week. Roman can’t introduce the surprise to his players at halftime. Players need familiarity with it, need to know it’s coming, and need to practice it.
Roman can make these adjustments quickly. We’re talking small tweaks to his game plan, not fundamental changes.
But there are deeper problems with the 49ers’ second-half offense, issues Roman has nothing to do with.
Every offense has to scout itself, understand its own tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. Every NFL offense does this. Who scouts Roman?
Most teams have a Quality Control assistant for the offense. The 49ers do not.
Last season, Eric Mangini was the Niners’ Senior Offensive Consultant. He had 17 years of NFL experience as a defensive coach. It was his job to show Roman how an opposing defensive coordinator would look at his offense. Mangini was good at his job. When Mangini was the Senior Offensive Consultant, the Niners averaged 5.5 yards per play in the first half and 5.3 yards per play in the second half, remarkably symmetrical. Opposing defenses teams did not outfox Roman at halftime.
This season, the 49ers made Mangini the tight ends coach and did not hire a new Senior Offensive Consultant. They didn’t even hire a Junior Offensive Consultant. They hired no consultants.
The Niners hired Richmond Flowers to be an offensive assistant. He never has been one before. The Niners also made Mick Lombardi an offensive assistant. Like Flowers, Lombardi has no experience in this role. He was the Niners’ assistant to the head coach last season.
The most experienced offensive assistant on the 49ers’ staff is Ronald Curry. He has two years of experience. He was the head football coach at Mooresville High School in North Carolina as recently as 2012.
Roman doesn’t have time to scout himself. He needs help. He needed help against the Rams just the other week, the week after the Niners’ bye week. The bye week is a serious self-scouting week.
I’m sure Curry, Lombardi and Flowers worked hard to do that for Roman. But they’re doing it for the first time. They’re novices. The 49ers need someone experienced, not people referring to the manual and learning on the job.
The 49ers need to hire a new Senior Offensive Consultant pronto. Don’t consider me presumptuous for making that suggestion. It’s the little omissions that kill a good team.
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.