September 18 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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In the 49ers offense, the playbook is filled with different formations. From those formations the 49ers generally run the same plays. It is the confusion over the formations, that is designed to throw off the defending team, while the offense benefits from the simplicity.
Offensive players know that no matter where they are lined up on the field, they are running one of a bunch of plays, that bunch of plays, is a bunch much smaller than typical offenses are composed of. This simplicity makes it easy to learn the offense, but hard to distinguish what play is being run and when it is being run.
Unfortunately, the simplicity has been detected by opposing teams, and defenses have begun to adapt to the 49ers way of life. Rather than react to what they think is going to happen, they look for cues from the offense to distinguish what play is to be broken out of the formation. Where the players are lined up - to a certain extent - becomes irrelevant.
Clearly, the 49ers are having a difficult time beating this type of read and react defense. And there is a way around it of course. The team can either change their formations drastically - to the extent that players are not typically ‘in position’ when a certain play is being run, or the team can change the plays that are being run from the many different formations. The latter is a more realistic possibility.
By changing the routes that the players are running, the 49ers would be redesigning the West Coast Offense that has become predictable in San Francisco. The extra time teams would need to react to the new set of plays being run from the old formations could be enough to exploit the defense.
Of course, no solution is unflawed - and most will question where the 49ers are supposed to dream up these new plays. The answer of course is simpler than one would imagine. For example, suppose the 49ers have a formation with two receivers, one on the left and one on the right, one tight end on the right side, and two running backs in the backfield. Typically from this formation, the receiver on the left runs a ‘square in’ while the one on the right runs a ‘post’. For ease of explanation both running backs stay back to help block, while the tight end runs a screen. To create the ‘new play’ the 49ers could easily flip flop the three receiving patterns. Hence from the same formation, the 49ers would be running a ‘new play’ and defenses would need time to adjust. Suddenly, the ‘square in’ isn’t happening where it should be - hence creating some confusion in the defense.
The 49ers need to adapt in order to defeat the cover-two defense they are seeing so much of. They can not rest by doing the same thing week in week out. Simply put, they will not win that way. The West Coast Offense has been so successful to this point because of its adaptability. The 49ers can not fear to adapt their offense in order to beat a new defense. The theory that they should keep doing ‘what they are doing’ is only true to the extent of philosophy of the West Coast Offense, not to the point of running the same plays, from the same formations - that is what leads to predictability. By adapting the offense within the philosophy the 49ers can likely defeat the defense that has been plaguing them.