49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

October 14, 2010
Adaptation: Can 49ers offense change in time to save season?

Please bear with us. We're still evolving. This, according to offensive coordinator Mike Johnson, who delivered his weekly address to the media this morning. The question is whether that evolutionary process -- in this case, accelerating out of the 1980s -- can occur quickly enough given the 49ers 0-5 start.

Johnson's two games as offensive coordinator have brought some changes to the 49ers offense for sure. For one, the 49ers have scored touchdowns on their opening drives, something that previous offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye had been unable to do in 19 tries with the 49ers.

He also got Michael Crabtree - conspicuously quiet in the first three games -- more involved. Crabtree caught nine passes for 105 yards (both career highs) against the Eagles, and he caught only his third touchdown pass since joining the 49ers.

Third-down efficiency also has gotten better under Johnson. The 49ers had a 50 percent conversion rate against Atlanta and 62 percent rate against the Eagles. In 19 games under Raye, the third-down percentage surpassed 50 percent only once - In Week 2 vs. New Orleans (55 percent).

But other areas have been distinctly Raye-esque. The 49ers opened Sunday's game with four straight runs to Frank Gore. They are running up the middle on 66 percent of their runs, according to Football Outsiders, which ties for the second-highest percentage in the league. (But which is lower than their percentage last year). And Moran Norris continues to be a mainstay in the offense, despite the fact that his presence signals that a running play will follow.

That has led to speculation that Mike Singletary still has a strong say in how the 49ers operate offensively. "It's all perception," Johnson said today. "And I think going forward, you will see a different style slightly. But we have a core philosophy that we believe in, that coach Singletary believes in. But I think you will see a better balance of all the things I said earlier."

Asked about the 49ers tendency to run the ball on first downs, Johnson conceded that "There needs to be a better mixture." He defended the team's up-the-middle runs - what he called the "core runs" -- arguing that is something at which Frank Gore and something that has been "efficient" in the 49ers arsenal. He said he considered a run that gets four or more yards to be efficient. But he said the 49ers need to do a better job of building onto those core runs.

"I think it makes it easier for the defense to stop it if you don't have all of the complements, " Johnson said. "And that goes into what we were just talking about again. We have to make sure that we complement our core runs. Our core run is the power play, which is an inside run. It's one of the best runs that Frank Gore runs, and it's something that he has been successful with his entire career. And it's up to myself and the other coaches to make sure that we complement that core run with all the bells and whistles to make sure that they can't just come down and squeeze the A gaps with eight-man pressure."

Johnson was asked if Raye left him everything he felt he needed to run the 49ers offensive efficiently.

"I think a good portion of it is there, but like I said earlier, we are evolving into what we want to become," he said. "And the first week you can't change everything and do everything that you want to do or it's total disruption to the offensive team. So, as we go forward, I think there will be an evolution into the type of offense that I want to run, and we want to run as an offensive staff. So to answer your question, it's a good portion of it, but not everything we want to do, no."

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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