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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