It’s hard to argue that the 49ers aren’t the most disappointing team in the NFL thus far. While the Vikings, Giants and Chargers have played below expectations themselves, the Niners were supposed to be well on their way to winning the weak NFC West by now.
Instead, they’re 0-3 and were the first team to make a major coaching change earlier this week when they fired offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye on Monday. Mike Johnson will take over the position and already he’s vowing to do things differently than his predecessor.
Johnson wants to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers by spreading things out and giving defenses more looks. Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis have been underutilized so far and the hope is to confuse opponents with different packages.
Of course, Raye wanted Crabtree and Davis to get their hands on the ball more too, but when Sundays came he would stick with a more conservative approach. Communication issues between Raye, head coach Mike Singletary and quarterback Alex Smith only complicated things and subsequently led to Raye’s firing earlier this week.
The Niners take on a Falcon team this Sunday that ranks 21st in the league in total defense, but is only allowing 15.3 points per game. They’re prone to giving up the big play, so if Johnson is aggressive Smith may be able to connect with Crabtree and/or Davis in the vertical passing game. On the surface, this doesn’t appear to be a good matchup for the 49ers. But considering Atlanta is coming off an emotional victory over the Saints and could be due for a letdown, this is a situation San Fran may be able to take advantage of.
But it’s up to Johnson to deliver on what he’s saying now. Plenty of coaches and coordinators talk a good game during the week but then when game time approaches, some of them lose their gumption. They call plays too close to the vest and before they know it, their team is down by two scores and they’re playing catchup.
We’ll see how Johnson fares in his debut.