Johnson aims to improve unsightly numbers

There are so many ways to say the Niners offense has been ugly this season.

There’s this: Andy Lee’s punt total (17) tops their first-half scoring total (16).

Or this: Alex Smith’s interception total (5) tops their touchdown total (4).

Or, you might prefer: Opposing defenses have scored as many third-quarter points (7) against the Niners as the Niners offense has scored against them.


But new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson didn’t use numbers today to
suggest the 49ers can stand to clean up a little better in the season’s
final 13 regular-season games.

“I kind of correlate it to two women wearing the same dress,” Johnson
said today in comparing the offense under Jimmy Raye to what he hopes it
will become under his leadership. “You have football players, you have
an offense, but you can have two women wearing the same dress and they
look totally different.”

The Niners hope there is a night-and-day difference Sunday in Atlanta. But what is Johnson’s plan for an extreme makeover?

Invoking the dress analogy again, Johnson said the 49ers will have the
same core plays and same core concepts, but they will look a little
different. Based on what he said during his 18-minute meeting with the
media, expect to see more personnel packages, more formations, at least a
little bit of the spread, an emphasis on getting more of the
“playmakers” involved (a possible uptick in playing time for Brian
Westbrook and Delanie Walker) and a willingness to alter the game plan
depending on what defenses are showing (Frank Gore runs up the middle
will vanish if there are 11 men in the box).

By involving other players, Johnson hopes to create larger running lanes
for Gore, who he ranks among the “top five or so” running backs in the
NFL.

“I think we have other playmakers here that have the ability to make
plays that will make Frank’s job of running the ball easier,” Johnson
said. “I think that’s what we’ll try to do, just make sure that we get
the ball to the people that we have and then each game I think will be a
little bit different. We’ll play some games where they’ll try to load
the box on you and you’ll do certain things. And then certain times
they’ll probably play a little softer where you’ll run it more.”

Other highlights:

• Johnson said teams are defending tight end Vernon Davis differently,
taking away the seam route that was so successful last year. Davis is on
pace for a career-high 80 catches (78 in ’09) and 923 yards (965 in
’09) but hasn’t scored a TD after tying an NFL record for tight ends
with 13 last year.

“There will be ways that we do things differently to make sure that we
get Vernon Davis the ball in space that will allow him to do certain
things that he did last year,” Johnson said. “They may be able to take
the vertical down the middle, but there will be other ways that we will
incorporate in our game plan to make sure he touches the ball.”

• Johnson was asked if Brian Westbrook, who has three touches in three
games, will become more involved in the offense. Raye had said
Westbrook’s role was to be Gore’s backup. Johnson alluded to pairing
Westbrook with Gore when asked if Westbrook would have an expanded role.

“I think we look at that each week,” Johnson said. “I think we look at
who we’re playing, does he give us an advantage, can we put him on the
field with Frank and then get a certain play where he can get us a first
down or a potential big play? I think we’re looking at that and trying
to see if we can incorporate him as well as other guys — Delanie Walker —
as well as we can get guys like that into the game plan in certain
situations to help us win the ballgame.”

• Johnson gave a lukewarm assessment of Alex Smith after three games,
saying he’s played “OK.” Smith, of course, played in a spread offense at
Utah and had success when the Niners incorporated it last year. Johnson
said they will use some spread. It’s also expected that Smith will be
moved around in the pocket more to take advantage of his above-average
running ability.

“(We’re going) to come together as a staff and see what does Alex Smith
really does well then what he doesn’t do well,” Johnson said. “And we’re
going to try to stay away from the bad stuff.”

He didn’t say what the bad stuff was.

• Johnson said he didn’t know if he will call plays from the booth or
the sideline on Sunday. He called plays from upstairs when he served as
the offensive coordinator in Atlanta in 2003. He said it was possible a
decision wouldn’t be made until Saturday night.

• Johnson on his offensive philosophy: “I believe that you have to be
multiple and be diversified. I think you have to have multiple packages.
I think you have to have two tight end packages. I think you have to
have two tight end/two-back packages. And you also have to spread them
out. One of the basic philosophies that I believe in, I believe you have
to make the defense defend the entire field. I think you can’t let a
defense squeeze you between the numbers.”

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