The 49ers used more three-receiver personnel groups and shotgun formations against the Packers once they fell behind. They were quite a bit more productive. Why?
"The quantity of the yards and quality of the yards has to be measured by the score and the time in the game," offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye told reporters Thursday. "I don’t think the formation per se had a whole lot to do with it. The fact that we were in a semi-rally mode because we were down by four scores had something to do with it. We converted third downs, which meant we got more plays."
There's no question it's easier to throw the ball when the opposing defense is more concerned about the clock than stopping the offense. There has been a garbage-time element to the 49ers' second-half production against the Texans and Packers in recent weeks. Still, I think it's fair to say Raye should mix in more three-receiver groupings on early downs when scores are closer. This is 2009, after all, and the NFL is a passing league. It's OK for the 49ers to seek a hard-nosed identity through the ground game. There's no law against running from three-receiver personnel, though.
"After the first drive in the game, we went three-and-out three straight times, and when we looked up, the score was 20-3, which totally changed the complexion of the game and the thought process and plan of the game," Raye said about the 30-24 defeat at Green Bay. "Then, the play prior to the 2-minute warning, we could have kept them off the field on third-and-7 and we didn’t convert. Then they went back and got another score to make it 23-3. So, there wasn’t really any reason to be in ‘21’ personnel (two backs, one tight end) and having the quarterback operating from under center.
"The score of the game and flavor of the game kind of dictated that. If you recall in that game, the first drive in that game, we were third-and-less-than-1 in a position to score, and none of those plays were out of the gun. We missed and opted to kick the field goal to make the score 3-3. From that point on, offensively, it was downhill."
Brandon Jones' absence from those three-receiver groupings jumped out while watching the Green Bay game. Jones, the 49ers' most expensive addition in free agency, wasn't even active. An injury hindered him early in the season and I'm sure he has ground to make up, but something is wrong, in my view, if Jones isn't part of the offensive picture. If the 49ers had a better No. 3 receiver, Raye might feel comfortable working more three-receiver personnel groupings into the regular offense, not just the desperation offense.
Jones could get some reps in Week 12 now that Isaac Bruce has an ankle injury that might prevent him from playing. This can only be a good development for the 49ers' future. Bruce is winding down. This is almost certainly his final season with the 49ers and possibly in the NFL. The final six games are all about the future. Jones should be part of that future based on his price tag.
Raye had this to say Thursday when reporters asked which receivers would play where in Bruce's expected absence: "Basically, it gives Josh Morgan a transition when we go three-wide and that would bring Brandon Jones as the spot player. He would back up X. Jason Hill would be the back up Z. [Michael] Crabtree would stay at X. So, we would get the addition of Brandon Jones."
And on who would start in what spots: "Crabtree starts at X, Morgan starts at Z. Jason Hill backs up Z. Brandon Jones backs up X. Then three wides, Josh transitions from Z to X and Jason Hill becomes the Z."