I’m going to propose something that might seem counterintuitive, but please bear with me.
Through the first two games the Niners have been much more successful throwing than running on first and ten.
With first and ten or more yards to go, Alex Smith has completed 14 of 16 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown; he has been sacked twice.
On first and ten or more, Frank Gore has 16 rushes for 39 yards.
The Niners have run 39 first down plays, and they’ve picked up four or more yards 18 times. That’s a 46 percent success rate.
Of those 39 plays, 19 were run plays, and five of those picked up four or more yards. I call that a 26 percent success rate.
20 were pass plays, and 13 gained four or more yards. I call that a 65 percent success rate.
So obviously, the Niners have been much more successful passing the ball on first downs than running the ball.
If I were Greg Roman I’d script 15 no-huddle, shotgun pass plays to start the Cincinnati game. I would use a two-wide receiver, two-tight end, one running back formation, and I would ask Alex Smith to throw about a dozen straight quick passes – slants, screens, outs, those types of passes. I’d mix in a shotgun halfback draw if the defense blitzes.
The Niners haven’t shown anything like this to the league and Cincinnati wouldn’t be expecting it. I’m sure they’re guessing the Niners will run on either first or second down or both. That’s been their pattern so far.
But it hasn’t worked. The Niners can’t run the ball in any situation because defenses know they don’t trust their passing game. So, the Niners should establish it first thing against the Bengals, and then run the ball in the second half if they’re winning.