In the last two weeks against the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts, the 49ers called more passing plays than running plays. They did the same in Week 1 against the Packers with minimal rushing attempts.
Previously, the 49ers had a run-first mentality under Jim Harbaugh and even before ever since Frank Gore was on the team. Suddenly, passing has become more frequent with Colin Kaepernick dropping back.
For the opening game against the Packers, it was understandable to pass more when the opposition was focused on stopping the run. The success on the ground from the 49ers postseason win motivated Green Bay to pay attention to the ground game and they studied how to stop it.
It took an exceptional performance from Colin Kaepernick throwing to mostly Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis in Week 1 in order to beat Green Bay. The Packers had a reserve safety and backup cornerback starting, which ended up being the liability for their pass defense.
Suddenly, the game plans have become more pass oriented beyond Week 1. Against the Seahawks, Kaepernick had 28 passing attempts while Frank Gore only carried the ball nine times. If the scramble runs by Kaepernick don't count, the 49ers had 3/4ths of their game plan being pass oriented. Against the Seahawks defense, it was nearly impossible for the quarterback to hit his targets. Seattle's secondary dominated the night and the 49ers chose to not run the ball after the opening possession of the third quarter when trailing by five points.
St. Louis Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan said the 49ers are a run-oriented team. It's only strange how the 49ers have a great run blocking offensive line, but have chosen to pass the ball, which surprised him.
"[The 49ers] are a power running team and their offensive line is exceptional," Finnegan said in a conference call. "Gore and Kaepernick can make plays with their speed and arm. They are a run first team with an ability to throw down the field to certain players."
When an opposing player will say something completely different from what happened in the last two weeks, there is an issue here. The 49ers showed against the Colts that running down hill with Frank Gore is still successful. He had more than 60 yards on the lone touchdown last Sunday. They stopped running the ball with the exception of being on scrambles and a few select play to Kendall Hunter.
Gore was seen being angry at the coaches for not giving him the ball after Sunday's game. He had only four touches in the entire second half, according to Kevin Lynch.
Under Alex Smith as the quarterback, the 49ers would pound their rushing attack on the ground and throw when needed to. Smith had a strong awareness of what would happen on the field and would make the plays in a West Coast style of offense. The identity of the 49ers was made clear with Gore being the primary runner and depending on the offensive line to create the holes.
Is Alex Smith a better quarterback than Colin Kaepernick? Not from a talent perspective but with a true identity, he is. With Kaepernick as quarterback, it opened numerous ideas from Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh on how to utilize the third year quarterback in his first full season as the starter. With the talent he has, the playbook is suddenly over saturated with too many options of what to do.
On Sunday, the Colts beat the 49ers with the philosophy that there needs to be success on the ground. Head coach Chuck Pagano was open about this on his conference call and they stayed true to what he said. Ahmad Bradshaw ended up grinding extra yards for the Colts, keeping the time of possession in their favor and it eventually wore out the 49ers defense.
In response to why the running plays weren't called, Harbaugh and Roman couldn't give a clear answer. They both said execution wasn't there and reiterated that precision needs to be fixed moving forward in an unspecific manner.
This is a time of experimenting and toying around with what Kaepernick's strengths are and the 49ers are doing this in a costly matter. The play calling needs to stay consistent with using one of the greatest offensive lines of Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone and Anthony Davis. All five starters have been together for more than a full season and excelled in leaving holes for the runners if going up the gut or off tackle.
Fortunately for the 49ers, it is only Week 4 approaching and they should have time to understand the importance of running the ball. If not, Kaepernick will be called to do too much in the future.