Three's A Crowd
March 20th 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
I've said it before and I'll say it again, three good receivers on a team - or rather the three receivers in a West Coast Offense is more detrimental than it is helpful. In Terrell Owens, JJ Stokes, and Tai Streets the 49ers have attempted the trio receiving offense, and thus far it has gotten them no where. It seems that a trio of receivers is a good thing to have - the Rams are proof of that, but to have so many weapons you can't run the West Coast Offense it just isn't efficient.
The West Coast Offense as we know it today is based on the quick passes, finding the man underneath and getting the ball to him in the flat. It's a great system that relies on different formations, and lots of movement before the snap to make it effective. However there are not a whole lot of passes to go to the receivers. The QB is taught to look first to the primary receiver, but often the second read is not the other receiver but a running back or tight end. As a result, fewer balls go towards the receivers.
Obviously with fewer balls headed towads the receivers, the receivers are going to complain - wanting the ball more but for that to happen, the team has to evolve away from its current version of the West Coast Offense. There are other problems with using a trio receiver set often in the West Coast Offense, and they begin with the lack of surprise element. With only two receivers on the field, a tight end and a full backfield the defense has a much harder time predicting run or pass, but as soon as a tight end or fullback is removed from the field, the offense becomes that much more predictable. Of course, with the receivers primarily running outs and not the underneath patterns the quarterback still does not find the receivers open that often.
Even the older versions of the West Coast Offense were most successful when using a two receiver set with a good receiving tight end. the quarterback benefits from more protection, and the top two receivers see more balls come their way because of it, and the element of surprise spoken of earlier. It would seem that using a two receiver set more often than three in the West Coast Offense makes more sense. If of course we were talking about a gun slinging QB and an offensive system based on speed like the Rams have, then of course three receivers would be beneficial, but the tight end and fullback wouldn't be nearly as involved.
We can debate all day about whether JJ Stokes and Tai Streets are the problem in the offense, whether they can compete with other very good receivers in the league, but the matter of the fact is it comes down to the offensive system. The 49ers in my opinion have a big choice to make this season. Mariucci can either move towards an attack style offense, that probably doesn't suit the 49ers skill players that well, and use all three receivers often, or he can opt for the power and control game, leave out the the third receiver, and find that the offense is that much more efficient.
Given the strong backfield that the 49ers have, it would make more sense for the 49ers to go with that power, control game. It fits the skill on the team very well, it would get the 49ers second receiver much more involved in the offense, and there would be fewer complaints about not getting the ball enough. It simply makes the most sense - don't rule out the three receivers but don't over use it like it has been in the past.