San Francisco 49ers

Xs and Ohs: 49ers’ offensive playbook reboot revisited

Fullback Bruce Miller has spent more time on the sideline this season than he has in previous years.
Fullback Bruce Miller has spent more time on the sideline this season than he has in previous years. The Bee

Jim Harbaugh refused to speak about A.) what's wrong with the 49ers' offense, and B.) how the team will try to fix it during his Monday press conference, which is no surprise. The 49ers head coach hardly ever allows peeks behind the curtain and was in full defensive-mode following a humbling loss to the Seahawks Thursday.

Instead, fullback Bruce Miller gave perhaps the best explanation of what is happening this season. Here's a transcript of what Miller, who played just nine snaps against Seattle (and who is perhaps the best interview on the team), said on Monday.

On why he didn't play more:

Miller: “I think it was definitely part of the (game) plan. The looks we were getting out of our two-tight end sets, three wide receiver sets were, I guess, better looks for us. And then just us getting behind early in the game definitely plays a part in it. But I think it was just the way the week went, the looks that we were getting from the defense.”

On whether new concepts need to be introduced to the offense:

Miller: “No, I don't think new things need to be introduced. We've done a lot of things well this year. I definitely think being more consistent, week in and week out, no matter what the look is, no matter what the play is, I definitely think that there's been some breakdowns, whether it's been blocking, protections. Whatever it is, I think we've had some breakdowns. And when you have 11 guys counting on each other and you have a breakdown, whether it's just one guy each play, it causes negative plays. That's what we've had a lot of lately. So we've got to get 11 guys on the same page., pulling on the same strings, doing the same things, counting on each other.”

You guys are 12 games into the season and in the fourth year with the same offense – why consistency issues now?

Miller: “I wouldn't say (the offense) is exactly the same. We've got a lot of new guys sprinkled in, some different things with wide receivers and tight ends. So it's not exactly the same, and it can't be exactly the same. Defenses adjust, and we've seen that as we've tried to do some similar things, maybe even being a little bit repetitive, giving (defenses) the same looks. That's what we've tried to get away from – doing the same things because we found ourselves struggling and stalling. So it's not exactly the same, and it won't be the same continuing on. It will be different every week – different looks so they can't adjust. We have to keep evolving as a group and work together to get better at the things that we're trying to do.”

That last answer is interesting. Since Harbaugh and his staff arrived in 2011, they've obviously tweaked and adjusted their game plan from week to week. But they've never had as drastic a change as they has during the offseason. You'll recall that in August offensive coordinator Greg Roman said the coaches concluded that it was time to “clean out the garage” as far as the 49ers' playbook and that the team's attack would be “different.” The playbook was cleaned out, revamped, rewritten.

Roman offered no hints at the time as to what the system would look like. But with the additions of wide receivers Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd, the speculation was that there would be more multiple-wide receiver sets and less ground-and-pound. And – voila – that's what the 49ers did. Miller, for example, played 52.3 percent of the team's snaps last year. This year that number is 41.6 percent. (The five games that he played the least have all been losses).

It's hard to fault the instinct to change the 49ers offense. It certainly had gotten a bit stale and predictable over the last three seasons. But the execution of the reboot has not gone as planned and has not gone well. We are now three-quarters into the season and the offense never has been cohesive for meaningful stretches. What's more, offensive players look tentative at times, as if they are unsure what they are doing.

Change is good, but what the 49ers did in the offseason hasn't been good change.


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