SANTA CLARA — Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but no reasonable person can find much to admire in the 49ers offense after three games.
Mike Johnson is aware the numbers are ugly. And San Francisco's new offensive coordinator aims to give the 0-3 Niners an extreme makeover starting Sunday in Atlanta.
"I kind of correlate it to two women wearing the same dress," Johnson said Thursday in comparing the offense under ex-offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye to what he hopes it will become under his leadership. "You have football players, you have an offense, but you can have two women wearing the same dress and they look totally different."
On Day 4 on his new job, Johnson addressed the media for the first time and addressed questions about his plans to resuscitate an offense that ranks 31st in the NFL in points, 27th in rushing and has more turnovers (6) than touchdowns (4).
Johnson, 43, conceded the obvious: Week 4 isn't the time to overhaul the playbook. But, invoking the dress analogy again, he said the Niners will have the same core plays and concepts, but they will look different.
Johnson praised Raye, calling him one of the best coaches he's been around, but it became clear as he spelled out his vision that he believes the Niners can use their offensive talent more effectively than they did under Raye's 19-game tenure.
Based on Johnson's 18-minute give-and-take, expect the 49ers to use more formations, more personnel packages and at least dabble with the spread offense in Atlanta.
"I believe that you have to be multiple and be diversified," said Johnson when asked about his offensive philosophy. "I think you have to have multiple packages ... And you also have to spread them out. One of the basic philosophies that I believe in, I believe you have to make the defense defend the entire field. I think you can't let a defense squeeze you between the numbers."
Johnson also emphasized getting more playmakers involved, which could signal a bigger workload for running back Brian Westbrook (3 touches) and tight end Delanie Walker (6 catches). On Wednesday, quarterback Alex Smith, who shares a close relationship with his new offensive coordinator, said that he and Johnson both believed in being flexible.
That is, they recognize the need to throw out the game plan, if necessary, based on how defenses are attacking them. Such flexibility wasn't perceived to be one of Raye's strengths and helps explain why running back Frank Gore has managed less than 44 yards in two games this season against defenses sold out to stop him.
"I think we have other playmakers here that have the ability to make plays that will make Frank's job of running the ball easier," Johnson said. "I think that's what we'll try to do, just make sure that we get the ball to the people that we have and then each game I think will be a little bit different. We'll play some games where they'll try to load the box on you and you'll do certain things. And then certain times they'll probably play a little softer where you'll run it more."
Johnson spent 2008 out of football and spent much of his time studying the spread offense in college football. Smith played in the spread at the University of Utah and had success in the offense when the Niners used it last year. Johnson said they will use some spread, which is at least partially tied to his desire to play to Smith's strengths.