Article Title: Offensive accountability.
Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Monster Park two Sundays ago 9-7 right before a bye week that turned out to be a regular work week for all inside the 49er organization because of the magnitude of the offensive situation. This is an offense that is in last place in every statistical category according to the NFL and is in jeopardy of remaining there for the remainder of this entire season should it continue without direct intervention by somebody.
It is no secret that we absolutely stink in everything we do as an offense. No one knows exactly what the problem is but it has been said more than once: “we’ll get to the bottom of it once and for all.” Who and How will we get to the bottom of it is my question? It is rightly all of our questions as fellow 49er fans and die-hard enthusiasts. We have a legitimate right to our calculations and emotions in making our thoughts vocal so that they can be heard and identified.
Mike Nolan of course is ultimately responsible and he seems to accept that concept. He has made it clear that the anticipated record of where we are at is not where he wanted it to be at (2-3) on the season. He understands that we all have witnessed an abyss of miscalculated and unexecuted offensive plays over the past five weeks that has left the defensive unit sucking for oxygen because it has been on the field in relentless fashion to try and salvage any kind of dignity we might have remaining from one game to the next.
He has been accused of trying to replicate the San Francisco 49ers after the Baltimore Ravens his former team as the defensive coordinator in a sense that we can win football games on defense alone with an offense that can just get by, with making as few mistakes as possible in order to secure victory. I can’t tell you enough at how untrue I believe this to be, because of his principles to start building an offense almost from the get go after his hiring and replacing of Dennis Erickson as our head coach.
The deeper root of the problem is evident in that we have players not playing to our expectations and certainly not to theirs either. The lack of execution on the entire front is crystal clear when you watch all five games with the best one being against the Pittsburgh Steelers and come away with a sickening feeling that we are not playing with a high standard in mind and we are failing to capitalize on the very things we learned as a team from last season.
The offensive line from right guard Justin Smiley all the way over to Jonas Jennings on the left has not played anywhere near how it performed last year in helping manufacture veteran running back Pro Bowler Frank Gore almost 1700 yards in rushing and over 2000 from the line of scrimmage itself. It has not dominated anything as of late with the line packing a Pro Bowler in Larry Allen and one of the best-paid left tackles in the business in Jonas Jennings.
Even Center Eric Heitmann and right guard Justin Smiley both veterans from last season and considered heavyweight anchors for the passing and rushing game are playing well below the normal standard envisioned by all. Time and time again the crease between Heitmann and Smiley has been like an interstate highway that leads right to the car wreck that is quarterback Alex Smith.
Larry Allen seems a tad bit out of shape in not being able to handle a full work load out on the field, seemingly worn down and breathless when you see close-ups of him on camera huffing and panting like he was in need of an oxygen mask. Jonas Jennings should wear a patch like the one women wear for birth control to subdue the injury bug from creeping in along with his “personal problems,” that seem to be even more excuses for him not to be out on the field where he is supposed to be earning his mega-monster of a paycheck. The one plus you can see is rookie Joe Staley at right tackle having replaced veteran Kwame Harris and has executed at this position like it was heavenly meant to be.
Offensive line coach George Warhop is scratching his head with several key elements involving his line and is a fiery coach on the line when he observes linemen not following the well instituted principles he has drilled into each one of their collective heads time and time again in order for them to come together as one cohesive dangerous force like it was last season especially with the rushing attack which involved Frank Gore.
Benching right tackle Kwame Harris this season right after training camp seemed to be a no-brainer even by my own thoughts and prayers in that we all believed him to be one of the cancers on the line that contributed to the ills of Alex Smith not being productive enough with the passing attack. Joe Staley has come in and proven without a doubt that he’ll be an astute offensive lineman for many more years to come and will erase the doubts from anyone’s mind in that he has already made the one positive impact we’ve seen as a whole in regards to this offensive line.
The one thing I do miss is long time center Jeremy Newberry who I believe was one of the best centers who snapped the ball to six different quarterbacks over the course of his eight-year career with us. Jeremy took over the center duties from long-time veteran 49er Chris Dalman who suffered a career-ending neck injury and he did it with class and dignity.
Newberry dealt with a variety of physical injuries though the most damaging one to his knee last season that he played through in immense pain and discomfort in an effort to play next to his teammates and still be a contributing factor. Newberry groomed Eric Heitmann as he stood on the sidelines and he started to mature into something of a mainstay on the offensive line out of Stanford and now in his sixth season with the San Francisco 49ers. Eric Heitmann ultimately replaced Newberry because of the nagging injury that ended his career as a 49er and has played with vivid consistency up and until this current season that we are now in.
Missed blocks, improper hand placements, inability to lock on to your opponent and move them aside, line shift to create running lanes, inability to diagnose schematic tendencies of the defense and just a plan lack of both individualistic and collective execution by design has pigeon-holed this line to failure time and time again with veterans in all but one hemming in the line.
What are we supposed to think and believe? Everything starts and stops with the offensive line. Any good coach will tell you that and Mike Nolan knows this to be the truth because he recognizes and preaches about surrounding the quarterback with quality players that execute and allow him time to hand or pass the ball to his playmakers. Alex Smith has not been able to do this and neither has veteran Trent Dilfer who replaced him after the Seattle Seahawks came to Monster Park.
Jim Hostler the offensive coordinator who chose not to sit up in the overhead box to watch and call plays like his predecessor did in Norv Turner and did it with a flair of immense confidence is struggling to find anything that works from his tenure here as a fellow 49er coach in charge of Alex Smith’s development and maturity prior to becoming the head man on offense. Mike Nolan felt at the time it was better to promote someone from within that best knew of Alex Smith’s strengths and weaknesses and to manufacture an organized and effective base offense from his characteristics and principles in which Hostler knew him best. Has it worked up and until now? Heck No!
We are all screaming collectively for his head on a platter, believing that the play calling is very uncreative and way too conservative but at Mike Nolan’s blessing is it not? Are we so unwilling to take a chance now and then and play with an air of confidence? Or have we fumbled the ball so many countless times that we are now afflicted with a phobia that relegates us to being ultra-conservative so as to not take calculated risks like we should’ve done from time to time?
There are a lot of questions and not enough answers from the coaching aspect of the equation. A rookie offensive coordinator obviously needs time to develop into something just like any other player regardless if they have a background in it or not? Jim Hostler should be given every opportunity to correct this thing if he can and proves able to do so. If it means bringing in an offensive consultant like I believe the answer to be then I think we should do just that. By accepting the status quo and not making some kind of adjustment to identify and correct a problem we are settling for a below-average offensive mentality that will erode this unit even further down the road.
Frank Gore, Maurice Hicks and Michael Robinson have been largely ineffective because of the offensive line and the play calling itself. Moran Norris is just now being utilized a bit more than he was and he has proven to be the key element to Gore’s success last season. The running game needs production out of every single lineman to conduct and execute their plays to the letter each and every snap of the ball period.
Darrell Jackson, Arnaz Battle, Bryan Gilmore, Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker and Billy Bajema all have to be recipients of the ball from Alex Smith and to be on the same page. More times than not they aren’t on the same page because routes are misread and balls are dropped on way too many drives that kill them before they have even begun to live. Each player is accountable to one self and has to pick-up their game one -way or the other.
They must also stay healthy and be consistent in catching and running with the ball in that they build a trusting cohesiveness with Alex that can’t be taken too lightly. If it means substituting one player for another for lack thereof production then do it with Ashley Lelie and or a newly signed veteran in Le Ron McCoy a former Arizona Cardinal that was cut right after training camp.
There has even been speculation that Antonio Bryant could be a consideration again? Anything that will inject some kind of spark to ignite a fire that is even beyond smoldering to being almost non-existent. Taylor Jacobs was let go because of this downward spiral and Bryan Gilmore brought back after a tryout with the Oakland Raiders right across the Bay. Again accountability has to start somewhere and trickle down to every aspect of the offense and its personnel as a whole.
Better utilizing the offensive talent at our disposal has to be top of mind. Getting a little more risky on the offensive play calling and devising and implementing new schemes and or philosophies have to be contemplated and seriously considered. No stone should be left unturned in this purge to rectify what is wrong. If it means throwing Jim Hostler under the bus if everything still doesn’t change then the answer to that should be a resounding yes.
Mike Nolan has called out indirectly the offensive staff to start producing in that he claimed to have one of the best offensive staffs in the NFL today. Now he has to back that up by recognizing the fact that he now has to back those words up. In effect it puts all the coaches on that staff on notice to find the problems and fix them now or else stay tuned for the consequences soon to happen. Nolan has always been a man about accountability now he has to eat those words along with some members of his staff should nothing materialize here sooner rather than later. That process begins in New York with one of the best defenses that sits a quarterback down by force as a Giant of a task.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.