Gannon on audibles: ‘bad things will happen’

By Phil Barber
Press Democrat Staff Writer

Note: I’ll be adding to Grant’s 49ers blog here and there through Sunday’s game — and beyond, if we’re headed to another Super Bowl.

I spoke to Rich Gannon — the former NFL quarterback and current NFL Network and Sirius XM NFL Radio analyst — yesterday, mostly about the physical (and possibly illegal) style of the Seattle defensive backs. That story will run in the Press Democrat tomorrow.

During our conversation, Gannon told me something that was only tangentially related to that story, but highly pertinent to the 49ers’ chances at CenturyLink Field. He was explaining the ways in which the Niners might attempt to combat the Seahawks’ aggressive defense when he got to the subject of changing plays.

“You can’t go in there and expect to audible,” Gannon said. “It’s a waste of time. It’s not only a waste of time, but bad things will happen — communication errors, false starts, wrong routes. You can’t do it that way.

“You have to call your audible in the huddle. You’re calling two plays in the huddle, say one versus 2-deep (zone) and one versus 3-deep. Everyone’s been told, you’ll call the blitz-beater you’ve called for third down in case you don’t like the coverage. It’s a check-with-me system, or a kill system. If you (the quarterback) don’t like what you see, you say ‘kill-kill-kill’ and get to the second play. You have to have the tools in your toolbox to go up there and not get killed.”

Not exactly revelatory perhaps. We all know it’s incredibly loud at the CLink. We all know it’s hard to audible when it’s loud.

But Gannon’s description got me thinking about this game a little differently. Much of the media focus this week  centers on whether the 49ers are tough enough, physically and mentally tough enough, to go into Seattle and win. Of course they are. The Niners are as hard-edged as any team in the league.

But are they smart enough, or efficient enough?

It’s no secret the 49ers have struggled getting plays off before the play clock expires under head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman. It’s an occupational hazard of the offensive system they run, with its detailed and verbose terminology. Gannon is saying that the assignment will get even tougher at Seattle, where the code that goes from Roman to Harbaugh to Colin Kaepernick to the other 10 offensive players in the huddle is likely to double in length because of the need to call two play options instead of one. Sort of a scary proposition for 49ers fans.

Moreover, if Kaepernick is using a check-with-me system, his ability to quickly survey the defensive alignment and get out of bad plays becomes that much more vital. The 49ers have generally praised his skill in this regard. Sunday, we’ll see just how far he has progressed in the mental game of football.