Are the 49ers trying to lose? Are they losing on purpose?
I’m not saying they are — let’s make that clear. I’m not accusing the 49ers of tanking. But, I’m wondering. How do you explain the way they lost last week to the Bears? It just doesn’t make sense.
That was a game the Niners should have won, or at least kept close. The Bears were decimated, missing 12 of 22 starters from Week 1, and they were playing their fourth quarterback of the season. Plus, their defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, is someone the 49ers should have known how to beat.
Fangio was the Niners’ defensive coordinator just two seasons ago and he was on the same staff as Tom Rathman, the 49ers’ current running backs coach. Rathman knows Fangio’s defensive philosophy. And Trent Baalke knows Fangio’s defensive philosophy. Fangio hasn’t changed it since he left the Niners. If anything, he simplified it to accommodate all the backups the Bears have used this season.
And yet, the Niners couldn’t score more than six points in that game. Couldn’t gain more than 6 net passing yards.
Can a team be that bad unintentionally? Probably, but let’s play a game and pretend the Niners didn’t really care about winning.
Let’s look at Chip Kelly’s game plan. It may have sabotaged his own team. Here’s what I mean: Kelly adjusted to the snowy weather by calling runs 77 percent of the time through the first three quarters when the game was somewhat close. And when he did call passes, he mostly called deep ones which led to scattershot throws and sacks.
A run-heavy game plan supplemented by deep passes is the exact formula to lose in the snow. Don’t take it from me, though. Take it from Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton, a cold-weather specialist – he played for the Minnesota Vikings during the ’60s and ’70s.
“Here’s how you adjust your game,” Tarkenton said on KNBR this Friday. “You throw the ball. And you throw shorter passes … With my receivers, they have a great advantage over the defensive backs. The defensive back is scared to death because my guy knows where he’s going and how to make a cut. The defensive guy has to make a quicker cut and worries about slipping, which he does.
“So, I thought I had a great advantage passing. I didn’t go to a running game. I thought that was the worst thing you could do. You’ve got to throw the ball, but you’ve got to throw short passes and not throw the ball 30, 40 yards down the field, because the ball will flutter on you and you won’t have the accuracy.
“I played against Joe Kapp in Boston at Harvard Stadium, and I warmed up and I said, ‘We’re not going to be able to control the ball beyond 15 yards.’ And we scored 35 points. Joe — I think we shut him out — he was throwing the ball 50, 60 yards down the field. Couldn’t control it.
“You’ve got to pass the ball in bad weather. If you just go to three yards and a cloud of dust, you’re done because I think the defense has a great edge in the interior line.”