Time to mobilize the QB

Here is my Thursday column explaining how to improve the 49ers pass game.

SANTA CLARA – What would you say Eric Mangini does for the 49ers? They hired him in the offseason to be an offensive consultant, but the offense keeps getting worse.

I asked Jim Harbaugh what the Mangenius does and Harbaugh said, “Several things,” and listed none of them. So I assume Mangini does nothing.

Jim, you need a better offensive consultant.

Your passing offense ranks 32nd in yards, 17th in efficiency, 28th in completion percentage, 27th in passing touchdowns per game and 25th in sack rate. You have too much talent on your roster for your offense to rank so low in those critical categories.

Your quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, is the fastest quarterback in the league, he has a Howitzer for an arm and he has exceptional body control to throw on the run. And yet, your offensive brain trust does not take advantage of those attributes.

Why is that, Jim?

Nine out of every 10 pass plays, you have Kaepernick drop straight back in the pocket and stand there like a statue and read the whole field like a veteran, like Tom Brady.

Sunday against the Panthers, you had Kaepernick drop straight back on 29 of the 31 pass plays. So, of course Kaepernick got sacked six times. What did you think would happen against that tough defense? Was it Mangini’s idea to keep Kaepernick in one spot, a sitting duck? Tell me it was Mangini’s idea and not yours.

Why not move Kaepernick – move him more often behind the inside hip of the tackle, or outside the tight end on a sprint or a play-action bootleg or “waggle?” Why not do something, anything?

“That’s something in our game plan,” Harbaugh said Monday at a press conference, referring to moving the pocket. “You bring up a great point which frustrates everybody involved in the unit, when you’re not in the rhythm picking up first downs and being able to get in deeper to your playbook – get into the screen game, get into the movement game, keep things off balance. It’s frustrating to us all.”

If Harbaugh is telling the truth – he may not be – rollouts and waggles and bootlegs are “deep” in the 49ers playbook. That would not be good.

Rollouts and bootlegs and waggles should not be deep in a play book. They should be featured in any playbook, especially the 49ers’ playbook because Kaepernick is their quarterback and he knows how to move.

Most coaches move the pocket, or the “launch point,” for the quarterback once every fourth pass. That’s Football 101. Keep the pass rush off balance by moving the pocket every few passes.

But this season, the 49ers have moved the pocket by design for Kaepernick on just 28 of his 266 pass plays. That’s about once every 10 passes. That makes no sense.

Kaepernick has been extremely accurate throwing on designed roll outs this season – 16 completions on 27 attempts, including 6 drops. That’s an 81-percent accuracy rate. He also has passed for 10 first downs and run for one first down on rollouts.

I asked Harbaugh why his offense isn’t moving the pocket more often than 10 percent of the time.

He said, “Don’t know that 10 percent is not enough.”

Well, now you do. It is not nearly enough. You should move the pocket for Kaepernick three times as often as you do – once every three passes. Your offensive line struggles to pass protect, your wide receivers struggle to beat man coverage and Kaepernick struggles to read the whole field from the pocket. Moving the pocket more frequently would help. It would cut the field in half and give Kaepernick two easy reads – one deep receiver, one short receiver – and it would give Kaepernick the option to run. No brainer.

Brett Favre ran these plays all the time when he was Kaepernick’s age – 26. And when Favre was 26, he won the MVP throwing to Robert Brooks and Mark Chmura. Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis are better than Brooks and Chmura.

Favre wasn’t the only quarterback who made a living on rollouts and bootlegs. Steve Young did, too, and so did John Elway.

If Harbaugh rolled out Kaepernick every third pass, opposing defensive linemen would be afraid to rush too aggressively for fear of not knowing where Kaepernick will be.

Add to that the occasional Pistol read-option, and defending Kaepernick would be like playing pin the tail on the donkey – blindfolded.

At this moment, the only donkeys are the coaches who cannot envision these plays in the current one-dimensional offense – blindfolded.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.

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      1. Grant you are on the money with this one , great job of call the Coach out , not one person can argue with Grant here the Niners passing game is the worst in the league , period end of statement

    1. Yes, he’s tapping into the outrage, the frustration we all feel at losing two very winable games these past two week. I agree with him as well, and, you’re right, too often his cynical criticism does not help us.

  1. It’s good that you sportswriters are putting the feet to the fire of those coaches involved in the passing attack and play selection – Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh both. As to the particular solution you propose, I’m not 100% sure that it’s the answer, although it may be that it will indeed work well. The thing that might make it ineffective is that defenses are protecting against runs outside by Kaepernick, devoting an extra defender out wide. That makes it more difficult to run sweeps and reverses and throw screen passes and might be a problem in providing protection. I sure would try it, though, and see if it would be effective.

    My solution involves more short drops, ball out quickly, slants, outlet passes, draw plays, play action, and like that. Try screens. Try read options. Try QB draws. Try any damn thing. Mainly, don’t be so stupidly predictable. It would do wonders for getting the defenses on their heels. This is the most boring offense I can recall.

  2. Hmmmmm. I dunno. Bringing up scenarios for what might (?) be effective change of emphases for the offense is, I guess, what we do here, but does anyone else find this article self-congratulatory? There isn’t an inference, there’s an over-riding assumption of Grant’s superior point of view over Harbaugh, Roman, and Mangini. Now self esteem and independent thinking are fine, but in the grand scheme of things I’m not sure Grant’s or mine or Prime’s or Bay’s really carry more weight than those three. No offense, but c’mon. It’s hard for me to fight through the pretense to weigh the merits of the arguement.

      1. grant cites his own compilation of kaepernicks numbers when throwing out of the pocket–id feel more comfortable with his arguments if these numbers came from another source….grant, in reading his stuff, does tend to mold the “facts” to support his arguments….has gore still lost his legs…are the cowboys still going to represent the nfc in the superbowl…was jaerious wright the best receiver in the 2012 nfl draft? is coby fleener a superstar?

      2. Absolutely – the ego has to be stroked.
        Harbaugh’s staff is doing something right, they have a .733 winning percentage for crying out loud!

    1. I remember the same kind of defense from blog posters of the head coach when Singletary was the guy. Not comparing the two, just saying that some fans seem to think that the head coach is always more knowledgeable than the beat writers and fans – and in general that’s true – but sometimes the coaches just don’t do what seems obvious to a lot of us. And sometimes what seems obvious to us may be off base, but sometimes it isn’t. For the life of me I can’t see how having a predictable offense does the team any good.

      1. Very well stated, Wilson. My faith in the day in Sing and Raye was mis-placed. Yet still, when asked to measure between Grant C. and these Pros, sorry, I’m playing House Odds. How many times do you hit on the Inside Straight? Grant’s “Quant Take” is always interesting and thought provoking, but his analysis of said data seems FF-oriented and Group-Think Mentality. Now he’s glommed on to a sensible slice of tactics, and he’s taken the bit in his teeth and he’s running with it. Damn the Torpedos! Full speed ahead!
        ‘Kay; mind the Torpedos.

      2. Theres a serious difference between judging Singletary’s, a linebacker coach, grasp of 21st century NFL offenses compared to Harbaugh, one of the more respected offensive minds in the league.

      3. The Cohns reminds me of one of those loud mouthed “news” radio hosts that talk a big game, puff themselves up and try to make themselves sound tough while hiding behind a tape recorder or a keyboard. It’s pretty easy to sit there and posture when you’re neck isn’t on the line and you don’t actually have to answer to anyone (aside from perhaps an editor). Even if/when they have something to say, their self promoting style makes the whole article unpalatable.

      4. Grant,
        Are you trying to be the TJ Simers of the north? You would make a lot more money if you quit writing and became a professional football coach – it really is that easy! Draw up plays while you eat your fruit loops and call anyone stupid who does not use them.

    2. It’s hard for me to understand why LaM doesn’t get more passes thrown his way. It’s hard for me to understand why if Soap could play situational offense, Aldon can’t.

      Use your talent, Jim.

  3. The passing offense has the fewest passing attempts which is why it ranks last in yards. It ranks 10th in yards per pass which is a better indicator.

    While the offense ranks 25th in sack rate, it also ranks 12th in pressure rate. Does anyone else find that interesting?

    1. Ha good response prime. That is interesting Jack. What seams to frustrate me is I don’t have much confidence in Kaep, the receivers, pass protection, and play calling to pass the ball down the field in crunch time. It all seems out of synch. Its improbable to look at all pass plays to determine when yards came when it was needed and when it was garbage time but three times when the passing game needed to step up, against Seattle, Indy and Carolina, it failed. To contradict myself and talk about what you were alluding to, Jack, Kaep has one of the highest QBrs in the league which would infer that he is making plays when needed to most of the time. I’m hearing a lot of voices.

    2. true..but this begs the question of whether the niners have the fewest amount of attempts because they run the ball so well, or is it because they pass the ball so poorly? or is it some combo of the 2?

      1. Jack hammer,
        You’re are right the 49ers are a power running team, that’s why they script all kap plays, the 49ers will live and die with their running game. This 49ers team is not sophisticated like the, Saints, Packers, Patriots and cowboys.

        All of this junk Harbaugh says to the media are just excuses, we all know the 49ers will run the football 65 percent and 35 percent passing. That’s why, when Kap and 49ers play against quality teams with good defense, the 49ers running game struggle and the 49ers Qb and the passing game won’t be productive putting point on the board.

    3. Jack

      if we’re making 10 yards per catch, and that’s a better indicator, why aren’t we throwing a hell of a lot more passes ?

      Interesting ? yes, that (to me) indicates that the line is doing it’s job; don’t hold the ball so long….THROW IT!

      1. The argument here is not how to improve the 49ers offense, it’s the style of offense that many on here cannot deal with. Most of us grew up watching the 49ers dismantle teams with passing games second to none.
        People want that style back. It’s why they became 49er fans to begin with. That’s why a lot of people didn’t like Alex Smith. This is why people don’t like Greg Roman, and soon enough the attention and finger pointing will shift to Harbaugh.
        Winning masks everything. Losing makes everyone think they know how to fix it. These fans want the entertainment value. The old school grind it out Harbaugh way does not reconnect them to the Walsh days and offense. This is why everything “Walsh” is referenced when things get off the rails.
        Folks, it’s a new era of 49er football. Deal with it!

      2. Prime

        Truer words were never spoken, my old adversary. You have hit the proverbial nail on the head.

        We want Montana, but we have Kap. We want Walsh, but we have Harbaugh. We want Policy, but we have Baalke. The answer lies with Jed.

        The Niners own the Walsh Vault, and Harbaugh is more than capable enough to interpret and revive it to suit Kap. Nobody will ever surpass Walsh, but given the greenlight to play Walsh Football, Kap can exceed Montana. We all see it. Harbaugh knows it too, and Baalke, but as Jack astutely pointed out, the braintrust follows Schembeckler and Parcells.

        Jed needs to again lay down the law. It’s not too late. And why isn’t Tank playing? And why don’t they use Aldon in the Red Zone?

      3. Well said Prime. This is why we are the most annoying, never satisfied fan base. When you get a taste of greatness that’s all you will ever eat.

      4. Yep many of us are fixated on style points for sure. I think the hand wringing really only comes out after a loss though. As long as they win the moaning and groaning keeps to a minimum. This place just seems to have a complete meltdown after a loss. I can only imagine some of the stuff that will be said if they lose this weekend.

      5. Rocket whatever QB plays for the 49ers that guy will always be dissected and compared to Montana and Young.
        This is a huge bounce back game for CK havin to prove himself all over again. This is what every QB who plays for the 49ers must deal with til infinity. Our history dictates it. This is what happens when you win multiple championships!

      6. Yes that is true Prime, but the offenses each QB played in, and talent at the skill positions are vastly different so the comparison is really not valid.

        As I mentioned, winning seems to cure the malcontents who don’t like the style.

      7. I’m not comparing just stating that as a fan base of the 49ers, the QB position will always be under scrutiny regardless of offense, coach and era.

      8. As time goes by the teams of the 80′s become better and better. People tend to forget that Walsh and Montana scored a combined 6 points in back to back playoff games in 85 and 86, were blown out by an inferior Vikings team in 87, and were 6-5 in 88 until they caught fire and went all the way.

        What’s that saying? The older I get the better I was…

    1. Compton,

      You bring up a good point. Kaepernick has shown to be much better off when using play action. When throwing with play action he is #8 in the league with a rating of 109.4 and a 60.3% completion rate, and without play action he is #26 in the league with a rating of 72.5 and a 54.8% completion rate.

      1. I’d rather see traditional play action ala the Indianapolis Colts Given enough time any nfl receiver can get open and Kaep is capable of finding them. “Cutting the field in half” seems to put more pressure on the receivers to get open which they aren’t doing right now. I know you guys have advanced statistics but in my opinion, using the eyeball test, moving the pocket has not worked very well.

        1. It actually has worked out well. Kaepernick’s accuracy percentage is much higher on designed roll outs than it is from directly behind the center in the pocket.

          Traditional play action is good, too. The 49ers should move the pocket more often, though. 10 percent isn’t cutting it. 20 percent would be better, and 30 percent would be best.

    2. Thank you Jack. I don’t think moving the pocket is the answer. I’d rather see much more play action to slow down the pass rush.

      1. I’m sure it is higher, which probably isn’t very hard to do. In order to be a good team you have to be able to get it done in a standard pocket.

  4. It looks like Mangini does several ‘nothings’ :)

    I think the problems on offense result from having too many chefs in the kitchen. Having multiple coaches (Geep Chryst, J. Morton, Mangini, Roman, JH) putting together a game plan results in what we’ve seen so far this year.

  5. We’ll see what Luck does in the second half tonight, it’s dangerous to count him out until that fat lady sings. But so far, that Colt offense has come off the rails a bit. Yes, sure, Reggie Wayne, but that’s the reason, not the excuse.
    There are no excuses.
    Point is an offense can run hot and cold. We’re not going to win the division now, best case is as a Wild Card. Once the big dance begins, all bets are off. Let’s see if they can get it done. I’m sure not betting the Mortgage, but let’s see.

  6. Grant,
    bravo brother. Loved this write up. Took having a sack to write this piece. Don’t know how correct you are, but it’s an idea and at this point the coaching staff is failing against winning teams. Their predictability and lack of adjustments is temporarily sinking the ship.

    Enjoyed the read. BTW, you going to New Orleans?

        1. Scottsdale is pretty cool, but my three favorite road trips are New Orleans, New York and Seattle, but not in that order.

      1. Scottsdale has high caliber accommodations, spas and dining, but “cool” it ain’t. Culturally or climatically. Sorry, Contrarian by nature.
        Now Sedona, we can talk. Santa Fe and Taos even better, but the Football’s not too impressive. The food’s damn near as good as N’awlins, but a bit healthier. As Ditka said: “Even the water is fried in New Orleans.”

      2. Grant,
        Have you ever been to Tiki Bob’s across from Everquest Field? It’s a pretty fun place, people always kind of end up there by the end of the night. Seattle is an awesome city. I’ve been there many times and always had a blast.

      3. I haven’t, I’ll have to try it out next time I’m up there. My grandparents live in Santa Rosa, so I love to drive up the back way through Napa, Sonoma and Glenn Ellen when I visit them. You can’t beat that route if you like wine, although I still miss the cherry cider stand that used to be by Sears Point raceway! That stuff was incredible. The thing that’s cool about Seattle is that it has that cool, independent spirit without being pretentious for the most part. It’s just a fun city.

    1. Give Santa Fe a try. In August they have “Indian Market Festival”. It’s busy, upper end pricing, etc., but it’s a fab collection of Indian Art; best of the year. Off-season is quieter and better bargain. Mid- Late-Spring has good weather. Food rocks.
      The Native Americans around there reminded me of Hawaiians; a big time compliment coming from me.
      PS: Bon Voyage. Safe travels. (your Mom let’s you two rascals out with a credit card? Can’t believe it!)

  7. Found these 2012 stats
    Quarterback Effectiveness on Designed Roll-Outs
    In GC’s article,
    “Most coaches move the pocket, or the “launch point,” for the quarterback once every fourth pass. That’s Football 101.
    If I read the article correctly, “move the pocket” = “Designed Roll Outs.”
    Does that mean 25% of all pass attempts?
    But look at the PFF article, many if not majority of the QBs didn’t have that “once every fourth pass” amount of ROuts.
    And Kaep’s numbers weren’t that good in 2012.

    1. It doesnt matter what most QBs do, it matters what Kap does, and that depends on what he CAN do, and that is more than every other QB in NFL history. His talent and tools are that extraordinary. Harbaugh and Roman need to rethink their approach, and give the X-Wing a flightplan that is revolutionary.

      When Luke Skywalker took out the Death Star, he introduced a new measure for what was possible. The NFL, even with Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck, has reached only the level of the X-22. Montana was Maverick’s F-14 dogfighting in a world of Mustangs. Harbaugh already trekked to Nevada, land of Area 51, and absconded with a weapon so far beyond anybody’s understanding that only the radicals saw the potential.

      Look to Jaws, unleash the X-Wing, and set in motion a world of new expectations.

  8. Don’t want hurt his pride, perish the though a pro player would get his feelings hurt for stinkin up the place, but why doesn’t kaps performance improve ? Who gives a ratz az if he comes in to lift weights or run a marathon, we do t need another drunkenmiller we need another Montana. Maybe he should swallow his pride some and watch Wilson, who so far is beyond a doubt not as athletic, but IMO a better qb. He doesn’t run to take it to the house, he runs to get first downs or buy time because he’s so darn accurate deep. I have been a fan from the kezar days but 3 years of bad 3rd down conversions is 2 years too much. They need to learn how to get first downs as you cannot run over teams in the playoffs. The coaches should fix it ( see wr coaches) or get out of the way!

  9. Watched Pep Hamilton run the Stanford offense down the throat of the Titans in the second half. Luck was in his element, sliding around the pocket and finding receivers all around the field, making his mediocre linemen look good, and leading the Colts to another second-half comeback.

    Come on Kap, hurry up and get us to the promised land.

      1. I don’t like Fleener’s tendency to run out of the sidelines at the end of the run. On his last catch it made sense that he headed to the chains towards the sidelines based on the defender’s trajectory. But after gaining the first down he should have headed up field into the defender instead of running out of the field. I had this complaint against him during his Stanford days. Not enough contact courage for Harbaugh and Roman’s taste I’d think. Shaw is a stickler for offensive players to for dish out hits. He says he watches tape of high school prospects closely for “contact courage”.

        Looking forward to a Stanford beat-down of the Trojans on Saturday night followed by Niners bringing down the hammer on the Saints’ D on Sunday afternoon.

      2. Nice column, Jack. You are pretty prolific. Maybe you will take over this blog when Grant moves on to bigger and better things :)

        I agree with your keys to success this Sunday. On Niners dominating the ToP, they will have to successfully run on third and short (under 4 yards). As Ted Robinson pointed out, they were not able to do that against the Panthers despite their 5+ yds a carry.

  10. Here’s the issue. NO knows this too. They (Roman and Harbaugh) finally adjust to your suggestions and NO has already planned for it, OR they don’t change anything and Kaep continues not to deliver. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, eh?

  11. Awesome article, Grant! You ARE the best 49ers beat writer, period. The worst, I have concluded, is ESPN’s new 49ers beat writer, who shall remain anonymous, but he has the same initials as Bill Walsh. :-)

    You gather stats down to a level that is really insightful and unique, and you are confident in your assertions. I really like it. Keep it up!!!!

  12. This was one heck of an article Grant, although I put the blame on Kaep as well for our offensive woes. Our offense needs to wake up starting with Roman and going on down the list. I don’t expect our offense to return to the form of the Montana-Young eras but I do except better results than what we have had this season. Like you said, there is no excuse considering the talent that we have on the team.

  13. the 49ers have moved the pocket by design for Kaepernick on just 28 of his 266 pass plays.
    Kaepernick has been extremely accurate throwing on designed roll outs this season – 16 completions on 27 attempts,
    Ok. I was going by the above.

  14. My opinion they purposefully play a vanilla offense because they believe they can make the playoffs with it.then once they hit the playoffs they put everything out there

  15. Good article Grant. I think that the coaching gets into a group think bubble occasionally also. We on the outside maybe missing a lot of details but we surely won’t get lost in them with our wide lens view in the fog of war.
    Moving the pocket, short passes, screens all need to see there way back into a currently one dimensional offense. Can’t hurt any more than it currently is.

    As you may know I have been pushing for a specifically customized diamond formation as it appears to me to be a best fit for the current state of the Niners.
    In fact having backs and blockers in the backfield further enables moving pockets and short passes.

    1. I wrote about a diamond formation that allows both under center and pistol options two blogs back (as well as many blogs back). Spaceborn directed me to a brief article you wrote on that last year. Being new this year to this wild ride I did not know about it.
      Let me clear up some apparent missconceptions, the diamond formation and the pistol are two different beasts. Indeed you can run the diamond from under center as McCarthy proved in the Packers last super bowl year. They probably would still do it but they don’t have the personnel for it.
      Where as the Niners do! And if McC where here in Niner land with this current group of players I have no doubt that formation would be installed and depended heavily on.
      For these Niners of 2013 you take that 4 point diamond and slightly modifiy it to a 4 point to 3 point flex diamond formation to offer the option of either pistol or under center at any time before the snap and on any down and without telegraphing to the D.
      This would help Kap out in his learning curve a great deal. At the same time it would by its nature further strengthen the power running game — the heart and (sole) of this offense.
      It would, as you wrote a year ago , make use of LMJ. It would get LMJ or Hunter in with Gore and Miller for running threats both inside and outside to spread the defense. One formation with many many options will confuse the defense. Yet one formation will keep it simple for the offense and a learning QB. It will force single coverage on the two WRs making the passing game both simple and yet effective. Our man Patton played in a very effective diamond offense at LA tech and capitolized a whole lot on that single coverage.
      All those runners and blockers in the offensive box offer short pass targets, extra blocking and pocket protection moving or otherwise. Best of all it lets us dictate to the defense rather than the other way around. We are telling them that you have to play in the box to play us and a very big box it is….

  16. It almost seems as if Harbaugh is giving Kap a crash course in the pro style offense almost if to say dam’ the season full speed ahead on that learning curve.

  17. CK is playing tightjaw.
    He’s taught to play out of his comfortzone and learning to play different than he’s used to (see JH and Roman’s comment that he’s progressing every week)
    He knows he’s screwing up and he’s getting tighter and tighter……..
    Last year he played loose caus he had nothing to lose.

    1. You’re on to something there, Dee. He does seem tight, nervous and uncomfortable in the pocket. Thus my 0nly-half-kidding suggestion for him to draw up some plays in the dirt in the huddle. He knows how to be Kaep, he knows how to win. I don’t put that (lack of passing productivity) all on constraints from the coaches, but his development in all phases of QB-ing was something many of us were calling for in our off-season discussions. So we’ll hope he gets more comfortable.
      The thing is that DC’s jobs are to make him uncomfortable. Vic’s job is to make Brees less comfortable. Bill B. always focuses on taking away what an offense does best. He wants to see if you can beat him with your Plan B. So the league has attempted to contain him and disrupt him.
      The options Grant outlined are fine. They might help. Whatever moves the chains is cool. Grant looks at tape. Jack looks at tape. Many here view Rewind. We do remember that Roman and Harbaugh do too, right? And they’ve heard of Bill Walsh, we wouldn’t be breaking any news to them there either. I’d guess these guys have noticed what we have noticed..

  18. Grant

    I tell you when I don’t like what you’re writing, mainly because I think you’re extraordinary talent warrants more profound input. Cowboys, Romo, Young, etc … Recently you have expelled me, and I believe your actions have been warranted. I apologize. This forum, when you direct it as here, is uniquely suited to diverse opinion. This is great stuff.

    This is phenomenal. You speak to an element of offensive strategy that must be implemented, and Harbaugh’s failure to direct an offense that exploits his players’ skill-sets is long overdue for second guessing. Your piece on Cam v Kap last week was prescient, and despite being obvious, your article preceded the mainstream by a day or two.

    Harbaugh is a guru, but that doesn’t mean he’s always right. You correctly admonish him for not employing Kap to the extent necessary to facilitate the young QBs potential. You mention Favre, which is appropriate, since he was Kap’s hero. The problem here, in SF circa 2013, however, is that because Harbaugh has so much cred, he cannot be overcome, his dictate is law. All must obey him. But not so with Kap. Kap should read your piece and begin to expand his game per his own command. What would Harbaugh do? Bench him?

    I wrote earlier that the Niners passing offense needs to encourage rhythm, needs to rely on and use LaMichael James, taking short passes where they’re available and keeping defensive fronts moving laterally. On more than one occasion last Sunday, a late blitzing defensive back sacked Kap, and it was because he had no easy outlet that such was the case.

    Not only should Kap move, but the brain trust should start pairing him with the young players that suit his abilities. I would like to see Kendall and LaM on the field along with Vernon and Anquan split out wide, with Vance on the end of the line. Give Kap the green light to play his game, with players suited to his talents, and develop another dimension.

    Again, Grant, this is fantastic. Having grown up in the Bay Area with Lowell, given your masterful grasp of Niners lore and the language, I would like to see more of your ideas. Thanks.

  19. Just a point here, When coach Harbaugh came in his first season and turned the team around and subsequently a Super Bowl appearance in the second season, he was like hot apple pie for the sports writers. Loved by all journalists.

    Now he is struggling because the wide receiver corps has been banged up hurt and out. But yet we critisize his coaching and game planning when it far exceeds his predecessors.

    Last time I checked, the 9ers are still having a winning season and could still make the playoffs at 6 wins 3 losses above a 500 average.

    My opinion, this article is taking too much out of text right now. I trust coach Harbaugh and his staff to make the right decisions. Remember in a competitive NFL league, you can’t win them all. Its about hitting on all cylinders or peeking at the right time.


    1. Doc

      You have to admit that LaM is better than Dexter McCluster, though, right? I mean, he should be a feared weapon. Harbaugh sure was aware of him in college, right?

      Use him!

      And as LaM goes, so go all the weapons. Gathering dust. Idle.

      1. LMJ is a shifty guy (and I mean in terms of his running style – I have no judgement on his character!) – put him in some space and get him the ball, see what he can do. So far all I’ve really seen of him is handoffs out of the backfield (mostly from read-option). As a RB, sure, most of his touches should come from handoffs, but it just seems like they are not exploiting his talents to the fullest.

  20. Point 1

    Carroll has given Wilson permission to be the hero, and Wilson plays the role exceptionally well. I wanted the Niners to draft him, not necessarily to play him, but because he was a winner with a father who died too young. The maturity was sure to be there. He had already overcome so much, embraced his 4th year, and spoke with grace. Wilson is an astonishing player.

    Point 2

    Kaepernick is a phenom, a great role model, and filled with pride that moves him to prove his value, to prove that he is transcendant. He was fortunate to land in a loving home, and his defiance is productive because when he was given up by his mother, his parents made him feel special. Harbaugh needs to let Kap be the hero. He is extraordinary.

    Point 3

    The NFC West will dominate the conference for the next decade, with a little Cam mixed in. Wilson and Kaep will develop into a divisional rivalry as yet unseen, with Seattle FINALLY winning something, but with the Niners winning more. For the last claim to be true, Harbaugh must cede control.

    1. From Kevin Lynch’s article.
      “2). Kaepernick often doesn’t stay in the pocket long enough for routes to develop. Against the Titans, Kaepernick slide in the pocket and even took a hit after he threw the ball. It turned out to be one of his best games of the season. Against Carolina, he did that exactly once – on the last play of the game. If Kaepernick is to be successful and win the admiration of his teammates, he will need to deliver the ball and take a hit.”
      HB did, in numerous instances, gave Kaep chances to be a hero, if
      you see all the examples from different sources showing open receivers. I’m a Kaep supporter and like to see himself improve in his 2nd year as a starter. Maybe Lynch has a point about Kaep not to abandon the pocket too soon.

      1. can you recall any plays this season where kaeprnick dropped back, and when the pressure came, he stepped up into the pocket and got the pass off…i think he did it once vs cards….compare to last nites game where the announcers were praising luck’s ability to make subtle moves in the pocket, comparing it to payton manning…does kaerpernick need to be luck or manning in this regard? no but he could stand to improve

    1. Are you Doctor Doolittle? Ace Ventura? Mister Natural? Just wondering about the reference to Equs Africanus Asinus………

  21. Completely agree with this article. When we played the Rams Kap looked good rolling out and throwing the ball. Of course they’ll eventually overload the right side(his comfortable throwing side) but that’s where the read option and straight dive becomes affective. A small part of me hopes thinks they are keeping these plays under wraps until the playoffs. Majority of me still screams force Roman to change or get rid of him.

    1. Yup, he rolled out on 20 percent of his drop backs in that game.

      Kaepernick is underrated at throwing while rolling to his left. Defenses wouldn’t expect it. I would use that weapon more often if I was calling the plays.

  22. someone please advise Coach Harbaw
    to enjoy the flight to New Orleans…

    the trip down there will be much more
    enjoyable/relaxing than the plane ride back.

    I’m just sayin’……………………

  23. Strongly disagree. While you laid out the idea fairly, here’s why I think this will be ineffective:

    1. Players tend to get better with practice. If this stuff hasn’t been practiced much – and by Harbaugh/Roman’s comments, this appears to be the case – then you’re asking Kaep et al to master new skills when they apparently have not mastered the ones they have been practicing. This is impractical at best, arguably a pipe dream.
    2. This argument suggests that Kaep et al won’t be more productive out of the pocket going forward. While past performance is no firm indication of future performance, we know Kaep can dominate from the pocket – see 2012 results. Figuring out what’s missing in 2013 vs 2012 is paramount.
    3. There are at least 2 reasons why NFL offenses are not based on the rollout and the bootleg or do not feature it on a regular basis: 1) the process takes the quarterback out of the relative protection of the pocket, which usually affords 3-5 seconds of unmolested time to make a decision and throw, whereas the bootleg/rollout immediately exposes the qb to any blitzing lb, safety or corner; 2) while some quarterbacks can’t seem to see half of the field while they’re in the pocket, the boot/rollout almost requires the qb to eliminate half the field (recall the admonition against “throwing late over the middle”), thereby cutting the number of potential targets by 50% right off the bat.

    #3 alone nullifies this idea, even if you don’t buy #’s 1 &2.

    If I had more time, i’m sure i could come up with another 2-3 reasons, but alas time is not infinite for us mere mortals. Sorry Grant, this is a bad idea. As the occasional exception, sure. But we’re going to need 4 touchdowns to beat the Saints, and you don’t create that against an NFL team at home with an offense based on exceptions.

    1. I’m not suggesting the 49ers switch to an offense based on the rollout. I’m suggesting the 49ers use it as a changeup more often, twice or three times as often.

      1. hmmm…current utilization appears to be 0 times a game, let’s call it 0-1 times a game right now. So you’re saying 0-2 or 3 times. If it had hit one big play against Carolina, then yes that would have made a significant difference, but I can’t see one big play being the difference against the higher scoring teams. reasonable minds can disagree, of course.

        my current beef is that the “NFL’s best OL” (quoting nameless ESPN/Fox “analysts”) should be able to create one scoring drive against the 2013 Panthers or the 1985 Bears, but even with a short field here or there we did not.

        1. Current utilization is at 10 percent, one out of every 10 passes this season. I would bump it up to 25 or 30 percent. There have been three games this season when the 49ers rolled out Kaepernick 20 percent of the time – @ STL, vs. AZ and @ Tenn. In the other six games, the 49ers rolled out Kaepernick just 5 percent of the time, one in every 20 drop backs. That doesn’t make sense to me. No consistency. The 49ers rolled out Kaepernick just once in Seattle.

      2. It would be interesting to see actual data on the designed pocket movement throws from around the league to see how many teams are following Football 101.

        1. It would be. It would be interesting to see that data from the past, too. I’d love to know just how often Mike Holmgren moved Favre’s launch point in ’95 and ’96 and ’97, and how often Young ran bootlegs in ’93.

    2. “Figuring out what’s missing in 2013 vs 2012 is paramount.”

      No figuring out needed. Most teams will struggle a bit when they have lost one of their top weapons (Crabtree), and if you take away their top 2 as has been the case in the last 2 losses it gets worse.

      Even with that, the 49ers were within a couple of poor plays and a second half strategical faux pas from beating a very good defense last Sunday.

      1. “When your defense holds the opposing offense to just 10 points, you should win.”

        I agree, and they were a couple of poor plays and a second half strategical faux pas from beating a very good defense last Sunday.

        1. Beating a very good team. They got beat up by that defense. If the 49ers’ defense gives up 20, the Niners are not a couple of poor plays and a faux pas away from winning.

      2. You’ve already agreed with my take that they were a couple of poor plays from winning, “he threw a perfect deep pass to Vance McDonald in the fourth quarter but McDonald dropped it. If McDonald had not dropped it, the 49ers may have won the game.”

        1. Right, but the defense gets the vast majority of the credit for keeping the offense in the game and making that play meaningful.

      3. Have never disagreed with that. They played tremendous. Especially Skuta. The guy is making it very easy to not worry about rushing to give Smith a big extension…

      4. Without the defense playing well this team is not even in some of these losses they suffered. In the 3 losses the offense was completely shut down giving them little to no chance of winning. Yes there were a couple of plays here and there that may have changed the outcome, but that evens out. The Panthers had their own mistakes and plays that may have changed the outcome as well. The bottom line for me is that in the 3 losses, the offense really didn’t have an answer for what was being done to them and that is concerning.

  24. Nice Column Grant,just seems to me that the Niners brass, are stubborn and slow to react to change.I am going to jump on a limb, and say this Sunday game plan, we will see a new and improved Niner team, with creative offensive plays,now I am more concerned with our defense and Teid out

    1. I agree with you, partially. The niner brass are slow to react to change, but I do not believe they are stubborn.
      It is just frustrating to see the team being more reactive than being one that dictates the pace.
      Hoping Harbaugh & team adapt and become trendsetters in all areas, not followers.

      1. I don’t think so Neal. There will be games where they use more of something than another, but I’ve been watching this offense for 2+ years and the idea that they are saving something or will out something nobody’s seen is wishful thinking.

      2. Rocket,

        I hope your prediction is correct, you can’t judge the last game in how they will play Sunday, and although they are playing in the dome, the Saints still lost against the Jets, who we destroyed last year on the road. I know it is completely two different circumstances.Saints are much better at home , then on the road, we also are good on the road as well, only one lost.

      3. Holding back plays? That is absurd. You gotta win now and get clicking and developing chemistry before you start saving things for a time period that might not even happen. Of course only Neal the real meal deal would say something like that.

  25. The problem with rollouts is that you essentially cut-off one side of the field. One of the cardinal rules of the passing game over the years has been “Never throw back over the middle”. Kap will have to violate this rule if he notices someone wide open on the other side after he has started rolling out.

    In the last thread, there was much discussion on the picture posted by Jack showing Boldin wide open over the middle on the play on which VD was injured. What nobody mentioned is that Kap rolled out to his right as soon as the ball was in his hands. In order to throw to Boldin, he would have to violate the principle of never throwing back across the middle.

    1. Logic dictates this should be a Saint victory but this is the type of game the Niners have risen up to the challenge and won before.

      Harbaugh relishes this type of scenario when everybody is picking against them and he gets to use the “backs to the wall, and nobody believes in us outside this room” motivation.

      Ironically I think the Niners match up pretty well in this game, especially considering the weakness on the Saints defense is stopping the run and their Oline is not overly strong in pass protection.

      It will come down to who wins in the trenches as it often does with the Niners. They struggle against teams who can stand toe to toe with him but the Saints are not that type of team.

      If Davis and Reid play, I think the Niners will control the ball and make enough plays in the passing game to eke out a close win.

      Niners 27
      Saints 24

      1. This game is all on our young QB to prove to the NFL he can be that guy. Like Prime said, its the way the Niners fan base will always be critical on the position. Even if he wins big, the cycle of doubt happens over and over till he wins it all. I don’t think its fair but look at how Young, Garcia and Smith endured during their time.

  26. I think the larger issue is Harbaugh wants his QB to not lose a game more than he wants them to win a game. Most, but not all the time the game plan is conservative and relies on the running game, defense and creating turnovers to win the game. The passing game is not the focus in most of the games.
    So I am not clear what part of the problem is if Colin does not trust most of his receivers or it has been pounded into him to not turn the ball over, so he avoids risks.
    The launch point maybe a part of the problem, but it is only a part. The Niners have to be willing to try screen passes, quick slant passes, and to use LMJ and Hunter has receivers to bring variety to the offense game plan.
    Kap is going to have to trust his receivers a little bit more and throw the ball and plan on them making the catch.
    NO know we will try to run the ball. I expect 8 in the box on most plays and constantly changing coverage to try and confuse Kap. If we can’t maintain sustained drives and score Touchdowns and not field goals this game could get pretty ugly by the third quarter.

      1. Neal (RD), Mark – Kap is bonafide “playboy” now. Lost focus on football after Super Bowl, thinks he’s modern day Joe Namath now.
        I hope he gets his act together soon.

  27. Couldn’t agree with you more! Apparently our passing game is not working. I, too, get so frustrated during the game when we don’t roll Kap out more often. We have an extremely fast QB who can sometimes have pinpoint accuracy while throwing on the run. Yet, he stands in the pocket almost the whole friggin game. I understand the “Getting Hurt” fear that Harbaugh has, but Kap is very good at staying away from getting hit hard, especially when rolling out. Our passing game is pathetic, absolutely pathetic; almost an embarrassment. If we continue playing like this in the passing game, we may as well give this season up now.

  28. I know it seems like it’s a no brainer to move a mobile QB out of the pocket like Kaepnerick to take advantage of his legs and to extend plays. But there are drawbacks and limitations that the Niners are facing.

    1. The Crowded Box The Niners have established themselves to be a power running football team. They’re also known for having slow receivers that don’t get off the line or down the field very quickly. So opponents have just sat 8 or more in the box with tight press coverage. This makes a very crowded and sticky place to roll out a QB…especially if the defense is looking for it.

    2. The Read-Option Problem Teams are scheming to specifically keep Kaepnerick in the pocket. Because of the read option, Ends and Linebackers are specifically taught to keep an eye on Kaepnerick and hold edge containment and then crash down on him if there is any hint that he may have the ball. Kaep already has a giant bulls eye on his back and bulls on the edge already to charge him. The only way to reduce it is to establish the inside run game. And even then I’m not sure the defense will ever really take their eyes off Kaepernick.

    3. Half Field Squeeze Rolling the QB out reduces the field into half. The benefit and drawback for the QB can be less to coverage to read and worry about but also less receiving options. But a half field also has the problem of having less real estate for receivers to get open.

    4. Stretching Wide & Not Deep The Niners do not have any real deep threats on their roster. They can manufacture deep ball plays usually through play action or stress a defense with Vernon Davis in the middle but other than that there is no real vertical threat to stretch the defense vertically. Your only other option in the tradition of Bill Walsh and the West Coast Offense is to stretch opponents horizontally. The problem is that if you only have half a field there is not much room to stretch a defense wide. It works better when you can stretch a defense deep.

    5. The One-Two Read Problem It’s pretty apparent that Kaep likes his Flanker(Boldin or Crabtree) Tight End almost exclusively. Opposing teams know this. If you watch the coverage, they are already rolling their coverage towards the strong side of the field. So you have reduced real estate to cover with more defenders.

    So what you end up with is more defenders in a smaller space without the ability to stretch them deep. All the while the edge containment defenders have been focusing on hitting Kaepnernick if he even comes close to the edge if he has the ball or not.

    Like all play strategies, I think they are arrows in a quiver meant to be used in specific circumstances. So first I think the Niners would have to establish the running game. Second, I think they would have to get Manningham or Crabtree (Crabs isn’t really a burner but he can with good route running get deep) established as deep threats. Finally, I think they need to build counters off of their roll outs. And if that all adds up to more than 10% of the time rolling out? I don’t know.

    1. Alfor,
      Good analysis for reality check. And you just made the case for the full house flex diamond formation. Everyone of those problems are addressed by the full house flex diamond formation.
      1. Problem – Crowded box
      Answer – Fight fire with fire. Crowd the offensive box not to just match defense but to actually dictate. With the diamond formation you are inviting them to load the box. You want them to load the box. When they do we have answers east west and center.
      2. Problem – Read option neutralized
      Solution – The flexible diamond allows the QB to hold onto read option until the defense starts respecting all the other weapons and options that are now available out of the backfield. And now the read option is back in business because of the other threats and maybe more importantly because it was disguised in a one formation for all threats.
      Kap has three other skill players in the offensive box (four point diamond) with him each as a distinct threat with umpteen options. The diamond allows you to have both your inside and outside run threats (Gore and LMJ / Hunter) at the same time. Plus it puts Gore in his comfort spot – very important. This speed and power inside and out forces a laterally stretched heavily loaded D box. Kap now no longer needs to be the only outside threat – a big problem this year.
      As soon as the D pulls everyone into a long box to cover all of the run possibilities then fake the hand off look for one of the two (easy read) WRs in single cover.
      Or send one of those three blockers into a hole in the flat because a safety inched over to that WR to help that lonely CB. Or what the heck send all three backs out to flood the flat as receiving targets. Davis could be one of the blocking backs in the diamond to give the defense even more of a match up head ache. In the diamond the QB is the fourth running threat thus tying up a defender for a perfect man for man box to box.
      3. Problem – half field squeeze
      Solution – One of the strengths of the diamond is that it is by its nature a balanced formation forcing the D to balance there opposing set. It threatens the entire width of the field equally. Power and speed to east west and the north / south. Out of that balanced formation an offense can veer to one side for imbalance but now as a surprise rather than telegraphed by formation before the snap.
      So the defense lines up at all points because you show threat across the board yet they don’t know where you are coming from and you now read and pick your side and run your three diamond backs into a mismatch as targets, runners and blockers. You may not even need to keep a backside blocker because Kap can follow and throw or run.
      Translation – The offense gets to squeeze the field; the defense does not! Mismatch.
      4. Problem – Stretching the field wide and not deep (unable to do either)
      Solution – That is one of the main reasons for the diamond for this team. We have the weapons that can stretch the horizontal (lateral) on the sidelines let’s use them. The diamond allows you to put multiple skills with blocking in the backfield – a luxury if it fits (if you have the players) . Imagine an inside runner, an outside runner and a blocker all as simultaneous threats. That is what the diamond gives you, LMJ / Hunter plus Gore plus Miller / Davis. At least 4 of these guys are blockers and all are receivers. This is a lot of weapons offering a whole lot more options.
      All the while we just wait for that single coverage opportunity to stretch the field deep. Because it is going to happen probably sooner than later when you have a nest of diamond backs with lots of fangs.
      5. The one two read problem
      Solution – First the diamond just puts two WRS (two reads) out there and sooner than later in single coverage. Two targets – two reads, two big possibilities. What the heck just look to Boldin – in single cover – he will be open. Dare a safety to cheat over so you can go back to the power run or make Manningham the one read for awhile. Or send a diamond back into the spot vacated by the safety and make that short pass the first read.
      The diamond plays to the Niner strengths and allows Kap time to develop into a more complex passing game. The flex diamond allows Kap to operate from under center or the pistol with a minor shift while in either set the power run is not only not negatively impacted but actually improved.
      Using your analogy, the diamond puts all of the best Niner arrows in the quiver at each and every down. The defense sees them all so they fear them all and yet they do not know which one Kap will reach for. That is scary stuff for a defense.
      Alforfun take me to task find the holes in this crazy diamond.

    1. Pathetic stat of the day. Even when your team is winning all you do is complain. The team is 6-3, they’ve played without their best WR all season long, and without their second best receiver for the majority of 2 losses, yet have thrown the ball for only 28 yards per game less than last season.

    2. That’s a good point, Adam. Since Week 1, the 49ers are averaging a measley 145 passing yards per game, by far the fewest in the NFL.

      And since Week 1, the 49ers are averaging 6.38 yards per pass attempt, 21st-best in the NFL.

    3. how many have been to blown coverages…jacksonville doesnt cover miller on the sideline, easy 43 yard gain…safety blows coverage on davis in texans game for 66 yard td…

    4. Since were talking about pathetic stats; the San Diego Chargers haven’t won in Miami since a playoff game in Jan 1982.

  29. Unfortunately, Kaep appeared tight, nervous and uncomfortable against tough teams. He was not loose like a year ago. His demeanor may be a detriment to his teammates on offense. He seeks motivation from viewing tweeter comments per his screwups. This may be the worst possible anecdote. Vicious tweeter comments certainly don’t help one’s self-confidence. Instead it may backfire by making him press more trying to prove them wrong. Aloha from Honolulu Paul.

    1. Sounds to me as if it is just part of the rehab plan, and they are just managing his reps as he adjusts back to game shape….

  30. Said it before and I’ll say it again. We should’ve hired Chris Ault as offensive coordinator instead of Mangini.

    Mangini never really made sense and as you pointed out Grant…we have to assume his contributions have equated to nothing.

    Potential Kaep regression aside it really seems that we did not grow as an offensive scheme in the off season. That’s coaching…

  31. Allthough Im not impressed with Kap I have a feeling we beat NO..We always do well againdt finesse passing teans..Its the physical teams we struggle against..

  32. I realize Mr. Crabs is a big reason for Kaepernick struggling. They had developed a special chemistry which allowed him to get the ball out quicker. It may be imperative to resign Mr. Crabs over Iupati or Aldon. This season hinges on Mr. Crabs being able to return mentally ready to contribute……

    1. His physical health is a bigger priority than his mental health Razor. His breakout season was due to the fact that he actually stayed healthy for an entire season.

  33. grant—last year smith had a 70% completion % and kaepernick wasnt far behind–now he is down to 56%—thats seems like an overwhelmingly significant drop

  34. Fourth and One, on the two-yard line of Carolina. Are you really telling me Gore cannot get one yard behind our O-line in run-blocking mode? If the run fails, the worst-case scenario is that our defense has the Panthers backed up on their own two-yard line. Not only was that the game difference there, it shows us how Harbaugh/Roman have no guts anymore. I really don’t see any more aggressive play-calling from the Niners HC. He is not the same coach he was two years ago. Where is the daring, imaginative, innovative Harbaugh?

  35. I agree with the assessment. Everyone agrees that the 9ers have limited weapons on offense.
    What’s the main difference between this season and last year; someone decided it was better to put the training wheels back on Kap instead of competing.

    So turn Kap loose and let him do what he does best, make plays with his feet.

    Playing it safe because you don’t have confidence in your backup QB is not a good game plan.
    80% of the league have below average backup’s.

    If don’t trust the backups run the ball more, set up screens, use LM James, Gore and hunter as receivers but don’t inhibit a weapon because you’re afraid he might get hurt.

    I can’t think of a better time to throw Kaepernick into the deeper end of the pool and tell him to “sink or swim”.

    Go hard or go home.

    9ers baby!

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