A certain die hard segment of 49er fans will probably never fully embrace the brute force trauma offense of Mike Singletary’s vision. There remains in these reluctant skulls the magical memories of the Bill Walsh era, when our offense was poetry in motion, and danced divinely over, under, around, and through the NFL for nearly twenty years. An offense that was snidely dubbed, by the East Coast snobbers, the West Coast Offense. An offense that gave this franchise an identity and lifted it to the pinnacle of the NFL world.
During those years in the 80’s, the competition to the 49ers resided in thug teams like the New York Giants, the Chicago Bears, and the Hogs of Washington, and on into the 90’s with the bulldozing teams from Dallas. But it was Walsh’s WCO that spawned disciples and head coaches far and wide across the league.
Yes, the WCO at its best would embarrass your butt on any given Sunday, whereas the brute force teams would simply emasculate your team and grind it into the turf. But common to both types of teams was dominate defenses. Yet there is no such defense known as the West Coast Defense. Defense is ALWAYS a brute force trauma concept – even Monte Kiffin had a Warren Sapp. And Bret Farve never won anything without Reggie White.
True to Singletary’s vision, this year’s Draft was a point blank, smash mouth tour de force. Six hundred and fifty pounds of nasty meat for the offensive line and a two hundred thirty-three pound running back. There can be no doubt as to the message being sent to the NFL: the 49ers are going to black and blue your ass. There will not be one team in the league who will look forward to playing this 49er team. Even if they win, they will be bloodied and bruised for weeks afterward. Pete Carroll can charm the Seattle fans all he wants (till his rah-rah act wears out), but his team will be looking at twice a year of hell for a long, long time.
Still, the WCO memories are hard to let go of. A murmur of complaint is surfacing in fandom that we did not get a “speed back” in this draft. A back that can zip around the edges of the defense and take one to the house at any time. While this is not a WCO staple by any means, it is “fancy.” Magical. Disruptive to an opposing defense that will otherwise load the box and jam up any attempt we make to run the ball at will.
Baloney. No team has ever won a SB because of a specialty speed back. Those guys wow the fans with derring do, but do not effectively and predictably win games. Productive passing attacks are what unload the defensive box, not speed backs. Frank Gore can take one to the house, right up the middle, just as easy as Tennessee’s Chris Johnson squirting around the corner and juking down the sideline can.
What speed backs can’t do is block. They can’t pick up blitzes. They are useless without the ball. They can only do one thing and their being in the game for a “change of pace” simply telegraphs to the defense what the offense has in mind, just as surely as two tight ends and a power set do.
But speed does kill and without a lot of trumpets blaring, the 49ers did add some serious speed in this Draft and in the FA period. The speed was added to the return game and to the wide receivers. Ted Ginn lining up in the slot, with Frank Gore in the backfield, will do more to disrupt the defensive box than C. J. Spiller lining up as the lone back on third and long.
Spiller can entertain the Buffalo fans – they’ll need some amusement as they coast into last place in the AFC East. The 49ers are plowing forward to the promised land.