Fans, alumni and even some key members of the locker room have openly excoriated the 49ers’ offense after it surrendered nearly as many sacks as the number of points it scored Sunday, but coach Jim Harbaugh offered little explanation for what went wrong in their 13-10 loss to the Rams or how the team would fix itself.
As usual, Harbaugh said Monday thatthose details weren’t for public consumption.
“Rather than pick through each thing publicly, (I’d) rather talk to the team about that,” he said.
Most of the criticism has been that running back Frank Gore, one of the team’s top offensive players in recent years, has had only a sporadic role in recent games. Despite the close score Sunday, Gore had 14 carries and none when the 49ers had first and goal from the St. Louis 2-yard line on their last possession.
Even wide receivers questioned continually passing to Michael Crabtree, an option the 49ers typically use in desperate, end-of-game situations but one that has been largely unsuccessful.
“If you can’t depend on your offensive line or your running back to get one yard to win the football game, that’s very disturbing to me,” Hall of Fame wideout Jerry Rice said Monday on KNBR (680 AM). “Because I feel with this team, you expected so much more this year, and they’re not playing up to their potential right now. It’s not happening.”
That exasperation was echoed by players.
After the game, Gore stopped well short of criticizing coaches, including offensive coordinator Greg Roman, but he said the 49ers must establish an identity.
“We’ve just got to make our mind up, do what we feel we’re good at and just go do it,” said Gore, who has scored just one touchdown this season.
Offensive tackle Joe Staley was more blunt: “We have all the talent in the world, and we’re doing some dumb stuff, and they took advantage of it. Penalties, dumb blocks, dumb techniques and dumb schemes. We played like ... ”
The 49ers have been at their best this season when they consistently run the ball. But in the last two games, Roman and Harbaugh have moved away from a power-rushing attack to one that varies throughout the game, often using four and five pass catchers and an empty backfield.
The 49ers have been terrible closing out games, something at which a potent rushing attack usually excels. They have scored one offensive touchdown in the fourth quarter this year, and that came on a last-minute pass from Blaine Gabbert to Bruce Ellington in a game in Denver that was out of hand.
One of the players often left on the sideline is fullback Bruce Miller, who played 17 offensive snaps against the Rams. The four games in which Miller has played the lowest percentage of snaps – against Chicago, Arizona, Denver and Sunday against St. Louis – ended with losses.
Roman rejected the notion that the offense is so diverse from one play to the next that it can’t find a rhythm.
“Don’t buy into the fact that we’re really doing that many more things,” Roman said. “We’re probably doing less things.”
Harbaugh threw his support behind Roman on Monday.
“There are a lot of fingers that I’m sure will be pointed,” Harbaugh said. “We’re not going to be concerned about what other people think or point out. It’s got to be the men in the room that have to address it and make the necessary improvements.”
Hunter signs extension – The 49ers signed injured running back Kendall Hunter to a one-year contract extension Monday. Hunter, a fourth-round draft pick in 2011, would have become a free agent in March.
He tore his ACL at the beginning of training camp and was lost for the season. However, the 49ers were encouraged by how hard he worked to come back from a 2012 Achilles tendon tear and are betting he will bounce back from this injury, too.
Hunter, 26, and rookie Carlos Hyde soon may be the only two 49ers tailbacks signed for next season. Gore is set to be a free agent, and his future is unclear. Marcus Lattimore is contemplating retirement after a two-year comeback from reconstructive knee surgery. Another running back, LaMichael James, was released earlier this year.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.