There are no guarantees that the San Francisco 49ers will suddenly begin scoring touchdowns and blowing out opponents because they have a new offensive coordinator. The firing of Jimmy Raye and the promotion of quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson was probably a good idea, but it doesn't mean a thing unless coach Mike Singletary makes some drastic philosophical changes.
Even Singletary acknowledged that to a degree when he said on his weekly radio show, "We're going to do the best job we can to utilize all the talent we have."
That's something that's been woefully missing this season as the 0-3 49ers prepare for Sunday's game in Atlanta against the Falcons, clearly one of the five best teams in the NFL.
How can they get better as they transition to Johnson? Here are five suggestions:
1. Open up the offense. When you have weapons like tight end Vernon Davis and wide receivers Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan and Ted Ginn Jr., it just makes sense to look for ways to get them the ball downfield. But through three games, Crabtree has just six receptions and Ginn one, although he didn't play in Sunday's 31-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. This is a quarterback-driven, pass-first league, but Singletary continues to insist on a 50-50 ratio. He needs to change that thinking.
2. Incorporate Brian Westbrook into the offense. It's incomprehensible why Westbrook hasn't been given a bigger role. He's touched the ball just three times so far (one carry for no yards, two receptions for six yards), but unless he proves otherwise, he should still be considered one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL. In the 49ers' two lopsided losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Chiefs, they were a combined 5 for 32 on third downs. Doesn't it make sense to use a player who's arguably still the best third-down back in the game?
3. Force-feed Crabtree into the passing game. Enough with the excuse that he hasn't yet established a rapport with quarterback Alex Smith. Crabtree has six receptions but just 19 targets. That's not enough for someone who should be the team's primary medium-to-long threat. Yes, some of the blame belongs on Smith, whose accuracy is a major problem, but unless Crabtree becomes the focus of opposing defenses, the Niners' passing game won't concern anyone. Consider this: their tight ends have more receptions (24) than their wideouts (22).
4. Stop being so predictable. This falls into the same general category as the first point , but running the ball into the middle of the line with Gore and throwing short passes to Gore and Vernon Davis is simply too predictable. The 49ers have run Gore up the middle on their first offensive play of every game this season, and of the 15 opening-drive plays they've had so far, eight have been runs for 22 yards. Would it hurt to come out throwing the ball?
5. Start planning for the future. If this season is a lost cause, the 49ers will know it by mid-November (if not sooner) when they resume playing their NFC West schedule. An 0-5 start – or 0-6 if they lose at home to the Oakland Raiders on Oct. 17 – would probably mean the end of Singletary's coaching tenure in the Bay Area. They'll probably hand the reins to defensive coordinator Greg Manusky for the rest of the season and look at who's available in the offseason. Jon Gruden? Bill Cowher? Stanford's Jim Harbaugh? Start lining up the candidates.
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