Mostly clear

Grant Cohn: Four games in, 49ers seem to be making the smart adjustments

  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) drops back to pass as St. Louis Rams linebacker Will Witherspoon defends during the first quarter of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

The 49ers just finished the first quarter of their season. Where do they stand?

They're 2-2 and have an injury-depleted roster. Without knowing how much time the injured are going to miss it's tough to prognosticate how well the 49ers will do this season. But right now it seems they're contending for a wild card spot, not the division title.

Here's one thing we know for sure: The Pistol doesn't work anymore. From now on it should be just a limited feature in the 49ers' offensive game plan.

Unlike last season, defenses have a plan to stop the Pistol because they studied it all offseason and worked on it every day in training camp. NFL coaches work all day every day. They committed the time to figure out the Pistol and that's why gimmick offenses don't have staying power in the NFL.

But there is another issue with the Pistol and it doesn't have to do with defense.

It has to do with timing. The timing of a run from the Pistol is different than the timing of a run from a conventional offense. An offense cannot be equally adept at both types of run concepts because teams don't have enough practice time to perfect both.

Timing is a critical issue in the running game. An example: John McKay instituted the "I" formation at USC when he became the head coach in 1960. He realized the time it took for the running back to hit the hole from the "I" was different was different than the time it took a back to hit the hole from split backs or far or near backs.

So, McKay moved his offensive line a yard behind the line of scrimmage so they would not get to and come off their blocks before the running back hit the line of scrimmage. Also, McKay moved the running back from 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage to 7 1/2 yards behind it.

McKay mastered the issue of timing in the run game. He won four national titles in 15 years and coached two Heisman Trophy running backs – Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson.

Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman either didn't study or didn't comprehend the timing aspect of the run game, otherwise they would have discovered the difference between conventional runs and zone-read runs.

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