Grant Cohn: Five questions for 49ers

These are the top-five questions and answers every 49ers’ fan needs to know:

QUESTION: Why is Colin Kaepernick getting sacked so much?

ANSWER: Jim Harbaugh’s offensive scheme.

NFL defensive coordinators figured out Harbaugh’s offense lacks a way to beat blitzes consistently. Defenses are sacking Kaepernick on a league-high 9.1 percent of his drop backs and, when defenses blitz, they’re sacking Kaepernick even more frequently – 12.5 percent of the time. Harbaugh’s offense doesn’t have “sight adjustments,” a core blitz-beating concept every other NFL offense has. I’ll explain.

On the 49ers’ final offensive play in overtime against the Saints a few weeks ago, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan called an all-out, overload blitz. It’s called an “overload” because five defenders blitzed to the center’s left and three defenders blitzed to the center’s right – a three-by-five blitz. The side with “five” was the overload. The 49ers had only four players to block those five, so the Niners couldn’t block every blitzer – that was obvious before the center snapped the ball. In situations like this, most NFL offensive coordinators ask the receiver on the side of the overload to make a “sight adjustment” – to look and then adjust his route on sight of the blitz. Break off the route so the quarterback can get the ball out of his hands before the blitz takes him down.

Michael Crabtree was the receiver on the overload side against the Saints. He did not break off his route when the ball was snapped. He strolled downfield like the blitz wasn’t happening, and Kaepernick went down before Crabtree turned his head back to him. If Crabtree had made a sight adjustment and run a quick out route, the play would have resulted in a catch and possibly a first down instead of a sack.

But Crabtree was not at fault. The 49ers don’t coach sight adjustments. Mostly, they ask Kaepernick to run for his life when trouble comes. Kaepernick is his own outlet under pressure. Sometimes, they put one “hot receiver” in the pattern – a receiver who runs a shallow “hot route” no matter what. It’s a predetermined sight adjustment. It is popular in college, but doesn’t work in the NFL against sophisticated overload blitzes. You can’t predict which side the defense will overload. If it overloads the left side and the hot receiver is on the right side, he is useless. The defense still has more than enough players to cover him on that side of the field.

Almost every other NFL offense uses sight adjustments for a reason. They work. Time for Harbaugh to catch up with the times.

QUESTION: How many NFL coaches currently run the West Coach Offense?

ANSWER: Two - Andy Reid and Mike McCarthy. Reid coached in Green Bay under Mike Holmgren, who was Walsh’s quarterbacks’ coach Walsh’s final three seasons coaching the 49ers. McCarthy is a former offensive coordinator for the Niners, and he coached at the University of Pittsburgh under Paul Hackett, who was Walsh’s quarterbacks’ coach before Holmgren.

The Jets run the West Coast Offense with Marty Mornhinweg as their offensive coordinator. Mornhinweg also is a former offensive coordinator of the 49ers, and he learned his trade on the Packers under Holmgren. Mornhinweg, Reid and McCarthy all coach sight adjustments. Jim Harbaugh does not run the West Coast Offense. Harbaugh’s offense is nothing like that.

QUESTION: Who is the most important person in the 49ers’ organization: Trent Baalke or Jim Harbaugh?

ANSWER: Vic Fangio.

Forget Baalke and Harbaugh. Harbaugh has nothing to do with the defense. Baalke gets the players, but Fangio creates an elite defense every season no matter which players Baalke gets. The 49ers better hope Fangio doesn’t get the flu.

In four seasons with the Niners, Fangio has become one of, if not the best, defensive coordinator in football. Maybe Bill Belichik is better, but he’s a head coach.

Belichik was Bill Parcells’ defensive coordinator on the Giants. They won two Super Bowls and Parcells got most of the credit. Belichik eventually got his own head-coaching job, and Parcells never accomplished anything without him.

It makes you wonder. How many games would Harbaugh win if he didn’t have Fangio?

QUESTION: Is Frank Gore a Hall of Famer?

ANSWER: Yes. Gore and O.J. Simpson have almost identical statistics, and O.J. is a Hall of Famer. He played 11 seasons and rushed for 11,236 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and 61 touchdowns. Gore is in his 10th season and has rushed for 10,615 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and 62 touchdowns. No one would say Gore is better than O.J., but essentially they had the same career.

Can you imagine what the 49ers would be without Gore?

QUESTION: Do the Redskins have any chance against the Niners on Sunday?

ANSWER: Yes. If the 49ers’ offense plays the way it played against the Giants last week, the Niners could lose. The Redskins are better than the Giants – better running game, better defense, better defensive coordinator. Jim Haslett is one of the most creative and aggressive blitz-callers in the NFL. Believe me, he knows the Niners don’t use sight adjustments, and he knows how to exploit Harbaugh’s college-style passing game.

Will the Redskins win? Extreme long shot. It would be a devastating, crushing loss for the 49ers. Don’t count on it.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

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