COHN: 'This is Greg Roman's offense' — such as it is
Published: Monday, December 3, 2012 at 5:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 3, 2012 at 5:36 p.m.
I have a suspicion Jim Harbaugh will agree with what I'm about to write. I suspect Harbaugh believes Greg Roman is not good enough to be the 49ers' offensive coordinator.
I sure don't think he's good enough.
Harbaugh has stressed again and again, “This is Greg Roman's offense.”
When I first heard that simple declarative statement, I thought, “Gee, Harbaugh is praising the underling. That's nice of Harbaugh to give someone else credit.”
I've begun to embrace an alternate interpretation. Harbaugh is not praising Roman. He's assigning blame, assigning blame for four games in particular, games in which the 49ers scored, 13, 3, 13 and 13 points. Those are unacceptable totals in one-third of the games played to date.
“This is Greg Roman's offense.”
Such as it is.
You can call this column “Greg Roman”s Football Sins.”
He has committed so many sins, he's staring at football purgatory. Let's start with Sunday's heresy against the Rams. Let's talk about a few plays. I can't go over the entire game because of space considerations.
Like the play everyone's talking about — the sinful toss to Ted Ginn, which the Niners mangled, resulting in a Rams' touchdown. The 49ers were at their own 17-yard line on third-and-3 in the fourth quarter. It would have been prudent just to let Colin Kaepernick run the ball or just to throw a quick pass for three yards.
Roman decided to get fancy. He had Kaepernick toss a lateral to Ginn, the Niners' worst receiver, had Kaepernick toss the ball to the left side even though he's right-handed. You want to smack your head from sheer incomprehension. What was Roman thinking? Was he thinking?
You know what happened. You know how the play blew up and the ball got loose and the Rams recovered the ball and scored a cinch touchdown that tied the game.
On Monday, Harbaugh defended Roman without really defending him.
“Responsibility taken starts with me on that option play that resulted in a nightmare scenario,” Harbaugh said. “In that position in the game, I should not have let that play be called. It was too much ball handling, too much chance for the play to go sideways and backwards at that point in the game. I take responsibility for that.”
OK, Harbaugh took responsibility. He also made it crystal clear Roman made a crummy call - “too much ball handling.”
Later, Harbaugh said, “The greatest share of this responsibility is on me in that particular play for letting that play get called in when you've got those different options with four minutes left in the game.”
“But you didn't call the play,” I said. “You just allowed it to go in.”
“That's correct,” Harbaugh said. “That's correct, yes.”
Harbaugh could have done so many things to protect Roman. He could have said he called the play. He could have said he didn't want to go into detail — he said that many other times in the news conference. He could have said Roman is the second coming of Bill Walsh. Not this time. He laid the blame squarely at Roman's feet — as he should have.
I could go on with the Roman sins from Sunday. I could tell you how, in overtime, Roman played it safe with puny runs by Frank Gore that set up a ridiculous 51-yard field-goal attempt for David Akers, who currently is the worst place-kicker in the league. Of course, Akers missed the virtually impossible field-goal attempt and then the Rams made their own field goal and they won in overtime.
After the game, Joe Staley and Kaepernick said it seemed the Rams had the best possible defense for every 49ers' offensive play. Which means the Rams' coaches outsmarted Roman. People used to say Roman runs simple plays with lots of window dressing that's impossible for a defense to decipher. The Rams' coaches sure deciphered it.
All season long, with Kaepernick or Alex Smith at quarterback, Roman has not been able to find Vernon Davis, who is the best tight end in football. What's up with that, Greg?
Roman is a run-first coordinator. I'll get to the reasons for that in a moment. He wants to run Gore up the middle to set up the passing game. But if Gore can't run up the middle — like against the Rams — Roman has no Plan B. And that means you can beat his offense by stopping Gore. Not good.
Roman's background is in the running game, not in the passing game. Well, he was a defensive lineman in college. When he finally got around to offense, he mostly coached the offensive line. At Stanford he was brought in as the running game coordinator, and that means he was not the passing game coordinator.
Offensive line coaches have a shortsighted view of the game. They look down at the ground or stare into the near field at the defensive linemen. They do not see the entire field. They lack a comprehensive view. While Roman's run concepts are sophisticated, his pass concepts are rudimentary, straight out of “Dick and Jane.”
See Jane run a simple route. See Dick throw the ball.
If you imagine Roman's passing game as chess, he is still messing around with his pawns and hasn't even discovered his knights and bishops.
If Harbaugh is lucky, Roman will leave the 49ers after this season for a college job. Teams like to run a lot in college. If Roman does not leave, Harbaugh must fire him. Harbaugh has a group of excellent coaches. Roman is not up to the 49ers' standard. He is a football sinner.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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