Chip Kelly's New Mantra: No Hope Equals No Fear
“Another throw… short of the sticks.”
Ted Robinson - Last 49ers drive.
Another Sunday, another mixed bag of successes.
- A Bloody Mary with house cured beef jerky - not added to the breakfast bill
- Huevos rancheros for breakfast
- Temple coffee
- $14 Uber ride from the hotel to Sacramento International Airport
- 49ers offense
- 49ers defense
This is a good era to be a football fan. There’s a lot of fantastic information out in the electrical ethos to help become a better fan. You can examine old playbooks, listen to informative podcasts or find a great football book to help you be a better, smarter fan. Actually, there’s no reason anymore for you to not want to learn more about the game.
Despite the wealth of pigskin information, maybe I’m not reading the right stuff. Maybe I’m not that football-bright. Maybe one of you can explain this to me.
It’s 4th and 6, on the San Francisco 49ers last drive to hopefully march down, score points and win the game. Coach Chip Kelly’s called in a bunch formation to the right, and has tight end Garrett Celek lined up solo to the left. Running back Carlos Hyde’s in the backfield to Blaine Gabbert’s left.
Dallas has three defensive backs and a linebacker position to cover bunch formation. Celek’s single covered below. It certainly looks like man coverage with a single high safety.
But there’s confusion with the 49ers receivers and Gabbert’s forced to take a time out.
This is the moment your offense and your coach/coordinator earn their paycheck. It’s a huge moment for San Francisco, and a makable 6 yards. Everything about this play screams for perfect execution, from the pre-snap read to the ball placement on the coming pass.
Already, we’ve lacked perfect execution, but it’s football and sometimes good players gain yardage or find success from sheer will. That is why they make the big bucks.
The fans take a collective breath trying to shake the stink of a small failure from their brains as the 49ers break from the time out huddle.
The offense comes out in the same formation.
Yes, that’s right. The same formation.
It’s already over and the ball isn’t in Gabbert’s hands yet.
At the snap, the offensive line holds and Gabbet appears to have time to scan the field. Hyde runs an out, Celek runs what looks like a curl, both facing one-on-one coverage.
Joe Staley’s guy pursues hard, but Staley puts him in the ground. However, this causes Gabbert to scramble right. He had a clean pocket if he waited a count, or hitched slightly left to read his receivers.
If I had to guess, Gabbert’s first read should have been had Aaron Burbridge, who was runninga dig route. With Celek and Hyde manned up, Burbridge would have had a lot of open field on the left side of the field. If not, Gabbert had room to tuck it and run.
Instead, Gabbert rolls right, Dallas rolls left, and Gabbert completes a pass three yard pass to Torrey Smith who ran a three yard speed out and made no effort to move past the marker even when Gabbert scrambled.
Result: “Another throw… short of the sticks.” Those are KNBR broadcaster Ted Robinson’s words, not mine.
Despite knowing full well how Dallas would match the formation, Kelly didn’t motion a receiver, nor did he didn’t shift from one formation to the other. Nothing. Same alignment.
Maybe it’s a solid play, and maybe it would have worked if the 49ers didn’t take a time out to clear up the confusion. But coming out in the same formation twice with no changes to throw off the defense is a very poor decision by Kelly and offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins. Dallas stuck with their man-free defense and ended San Francisco’s drive.
As much as I’m constantly frustrated with the offense, the 49ers have an unreliable defense. Jim O’Neil’s defense gave up a total of 428 yards to Dallas. A rookie quarterback threw for 245 yards, and a rookie running back gained 138 yards. There are big problems with O’Neil’s scheme, and I question how long Jim O’Neil lasts in the position. You don’t need to know defensive scheme or strategy to know that you don’t win games when your defense gives up 428 yards of total offense.
Even hardcore 49ers homer Tim Ryan said, “there are a lot of huge holes and gaps in this defense.” It’s going to get worse if Navarro Bowman is out for the rest of the season, too.
But, is there anyone out there who wants to come coach in San Francisco? Maybe, but a mid-season hire might be tough.
As a very particular fan, I know I don’t like when others blame the coach, rather than the players when things go totally wrong. You’ll hear a lot of “They aren’t coached correctly” or “He’s not coaching right.” But, none of us know how any of these coaches coach or how to coach a professional athlete.
Sometimes, players just screw up, and it has nothing to do with coaching. It’s not bad coaching if your pitcher hangs a curveball to a good hitter, no more than it’s bad coaching if your player misses a tackle in the backfield. It’s sports. Things happen. Actually, weird, strange things happen.
But there is something missing on all sides of the ball for the 49ers. It’s bad play calling, it’s a lack of flexibility from the coaching staff and it’s a complete lack of surprise.
A coach can control all of these elements, but let’s look at the element of surprise.
Chip Kelly can easily install a series for Thursday night that has the offense in a true hurry up offense to open the game. Say he scripts out the first 6 to 8 plays, keeping the same personnel in for those plays, and even keeping each formation the roughly the same. What’s the upside here?
- By play three, the defense isn’t going to align correctly. So, on play four, Hyde breaks a big run.
- The defense can’t substitute. So when we get to play five, Gabbert may have a mismatch. Say a linebacker stuck on a slot receiver. That’s a match up you’d want.
- If the Cardinals get frustrated, they may call a time out on play seven to slow the drive, or get the right people on the field. This allows Kelly to counter with something different, maybe from page 57 of the playbook, rather than sticking the same plays he’s been calling on pages 23 to 25.
How is this a bad way to start a game? It certainly can’t hurt at this point.
Real world example: Alex Smith’s run against New Orleans in the 2012 divisional game was a perfect surprise play.
Look at this play again, and pause it at seven seconds. Every Saint is out of position and their right corner back is actually running away from the play. Usually you’d pull the right guard and have your left tackle down block or scrape and get a backer, but Roman motions Kyle Williams to crack the defensive tackle, had Staley pull left, and right guard Adam Snyder is trailing to clean up the mess. It’s off to the races for Smith who has a clean path to the end zone.
Who’da thought they’d call that? Staley didn’t even have to block anyone until he took out free safety Isa Abdul-Quddus.
It’s unfortunate that Chip Kelly or Curtis Modkins won’t call a play like this anytime soon.
Defensively, it’s harder to have that element of surprise, however you can give the offense a reason to question themselves.
It’s easy to say, “Well, blitz more.” That’s not always the answer. Constantly sending six or seven stresses the secondary. That’s how the quarterback finds a receiver running a drag in an empty space, or something weird happens - like Russell Wilson slipping out of a tackle and finding someone deep.
But, O’Neil needs to find something that looks different. Seattle’s been running the same type of defense since that Gum Chewing Cheater showed up a few years ago: A single high safety, usually, with a robber defensive back. But, it works. There are tons of plays to beat this kind of defense, but Seattle is clever enough to disguise different coverages or packages to make the quarterback look a fool.
Then again, this is kind of defense is what you’d expect when the 49ers management goes looking in dumpsters for defensive coordinators and ends up with someone from Cleveland.
With a quarter of this season in the books, Kelly’s quickly running out of options. Do something different, adjust… hell, open the game with a Hail Mary to Torrey Smith.
It’s time to ether adjust now or start filing out an unemployment application, because when you've got no hope, you've got no fear.