Jimmy Raye was Mike Singletary’s first, and most controversial, hire. Not only was Raye himself seen as a dubious choice for Offensive Coordinator, but the process of selecting him took nearly a month and, to some fans, reflected poorly on Singletary as the new Head Coach.
Long time blogomatics Berger and Unca_Chuck, no doubt representative of a sizable throng of less vocal blog afficionados, insist that the offense is the key to the coming season and that Raye is haunched atop the hottest seat in the locker room regarding the offense’s ability to improve on last season’s ragged and disappointing production. Okay, the offense was also quite boring. One blogger insists that Singletary be sharing the seat with Raye, but this presents an unpleasant and X-rated image for the imaginations of our pure and noble readers, so we will discard this notion for the nonce.
On the surface, last season’s offense was a head scratcher. Though cementing in the minds of fans the image of repeatedly pounding the ball into the line for no gain, the team statistically was a pass wacky affair, throwing over 60% of the time. Some say this is because the 49ers were constantly behind in games and had to throw to catch up. However, the team fell noticeably behind in only four games all season. Two came with Shaun Hill at QB (Atlanta & Houston) and two with Alex Smith under center (Green Bay & Philadelphia).
The disparity might arise more from the amount of plays the team managed to run while pursuing their early game running strategy (lots of 3 and outs = not many plays and lots of time off the clock) versus the amount of plays that were run in the second half, especially the fourth quarter, when the team went to the air more frequently (less time off the clock and more first downs = more plays). Even if this suggestion is exposed by astute readers as a complete pile of happy horseshit, the fact still remains that the offense was not particularly effective or smooth either running or passing.
It appears the mind set of Singletary and Raye was to focus obsessively on not producing turnovers — the horrific bane of the previous year’s Mike Martz offense, and rely on the defense to not only keep games close, but to create turnovers and give the team short field position. This plan, though ugly, was fairly successful, producing a turnover advantage for the team, instead of the whopping turnover disadvantage of the previous year. It also won the first Rams game and the Bears game. But this plan was torpedoed somewhat by the unexpected dysfunction of the punt return game, which created turnovers and bad field position and cost the team at least one game, perhaps two.
In that light, perhaps the offensive game plan last year achieved precisely what it was intended to achieve — victories. Without the punt return snafus, the 49ers would have had a winning season. Is that not ultimately the goal? There were no style points handed out, for sure. But ugly wins count more than magnificent losses.
At any rate, I wouldn’t expect that same close to the vest strategy to be trotted out again this year. Why would it? Michael Crabtree is available and ready this year from day one of TC. Smith has full command of the offensive play book. Josh Morgan is a year more developed. Vernon Davis and Smith have an established chemistry. Ted Ginn, Jason Hill, and/or Kyle Williams give us exciting slot WR options, plus explosive kick/punt return ability. The O-line is beefed up. In short, this is a far different offense than last year’s Shaun Hill, a fading Isaac Bruce, a second year Josh Morgan, and nothing much else so let’s give it to Frank Gore offense. This offense can be dynamic. It can overcome whatever few turnovers come with taking more risks and it can produce a few lop-sided laughers — something rarely seen in Ninerland for many years.
So cheer up, guys (especially you, Unca_Chuck). It won’t be Raye’s play calling that will be the issue this year. It will be the players executing the plays — as it should be. And Smith will have full responsibility to audible out of bad play calls, so that’s on him to do so.
Raye is never going to be a razzle-dazzle OC, any more than Singletary will be a razzle-dazzle HC. They both believe in basic, hard-nosed football. They believe success ultimately comes from being the toughest team, not the cutest. Since that philosophy is not exactly popular with a Fantasy Football mentality fandom which adores 300+ yard passing games, the only way it will be accepted is for it to produce victories. Lots of them. All the way to the pot of gold at the end of the season.
Until then, it will no doubt be boosville for each and every three and out, whether the 49ers win the game or not.