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The REAL West Coast Offense?
09/25/02


Note to my loyal readers (oh heck, letter to the rest of my readers as well): My apologies about the lack of updates recently. Between starting school back up and other drama in my life, this update has come significantly later than I would have preferred. Thanks for your patience in this area. Now, on to the good crap.

In my many travails and tribulations and conversations with 49ers fans, I've heard many a complaint about the thus far anemic 49ers offense. I've heard everything from "There's no one to take pressure off Terrell Owens" to "The offensive line is weak!" to "Jeff Garcia's a horrible quarterback. The 49ers should have traded for Drew Bledose!". The first one is true, but only sort of. The second one is completely off-base. The third is just plain ludicrous.

Yeah, the 49ers don't have anyone who cant take pressure off Terrell Owens right now. The reason for this is that the 49ers to this point haven't done a very good job of spreading the ball around to their other wide receivers. J.J. Stokes and Tai Streets are getting very very few looks this season, and with teams rolling coverage over to Owens, these guys need to be getting the ball thrown at them. Stokes and Streets are capable NFL wideouts, but in an offense with a passing game that has been "Owens or Bust" this season, they're not getting the looks their talent or their paychecks deserve.

The offensive line has undergone some turmoil this offseason, with Rone Stone being imported from the Giants and Dave Fiore flopping to left guard to compensate for his arrival. Jeremy Newberry has also been playing with his off hand (never an enjoyable proposition anywhere in life) for much of the year because of injury. Because of this and because of the lack of rhythm in the 49ers offense this season, the line has been unable to establish continuity and play as a unit the way the unit from '00 - '01 played. But give them time.

And I always countered the Bledsoe argument by saying "Look you retard, the Niners would never employ Drew Bledsoe because he's slooooooow. We're talking statuesque back there, and I don't mean in a Heidi Klum kinda way." I would usually then go on to say, "The West Coast offense isn't geared to a pocket passer. They need a guy who's mobile, agile, and... uh... fertile."

But it was after one of these arguments that I started thinking to myself. I said, "Self, let's think about this for a sec." And think I did. I'm sure we all remember the 49ers' offense in their heyday. Joe Montana and Steve Young would throw out to Jerry Rice and John Taylor, fleet-footed wideouts who were the best in the business at making things happen after the catch. When the wideouts weren't getting the ball on slants and screens, Brent Jones, the fastest tight end in football during his prime, would get the ball over the middle. They could also flip the ball out to fantastic all-around backs like Roger Craig or Ricky Watters. If they needed to grind out yards, Tom Rathman and William Floyd were among the best running fullbacks in the game. It was an attack offense, but not in the classic sense. Neither Montana nor Young was armed with a howitzer for an arm, and Rice and Taylor weren't exactly towering basketball players, a la the Randy Mosses and David Bostons of today's NFL. They were, however, amazingly quick off the line and in and out of breaks, and like I mentioned, adept at tacking on yards after the catch. As such, rather than just firing the ball down the field play after play, the Niners would use well-crafted plays to create space for wideouts to work in. The offensive line too was a unique group for its time. Light, athetlic linemen lined up across the board. And while individually they might not have been anything special, as a unit the 49ers' offensive lines were always among the best in the NFL. And this happened because every player on the line was smart and versatile. Defenses were kept from clamping down on any one player because every player at every position was a threat. If teams tried to take Rice out of the game with double coverage, the 49ers would run floods to the section of the field vacated by the double team.

Point is, it was an offense that spread the ball around, kept the defense on its heels with short plays and waited for them to make a mistake. It worked masterfully for 15 years.

"Wait a sec," you might say. "What do you mean, 'for 15 years'? The 49ers STILL run the West Coast offense."

And here I defy you dear reader, and say that actually, no they don't.

Check out the facts if you don't believe me. The 49ers' offense is led by Jeff Garcia, a guy who, while highly effective when he's on, is not anywhere near as dead-on accurate as Montana or Young were. As wide receivers go, the 49ers have unergone an evolution. Owens, Stokes, and Streets are all big and relatively sure-handed, but look at them. Owens is the fastest of the group and among the best in the league. But Stokes is as plodding a wideout as there is in the NFL. And Streets was incredibly fast before leg injuries in back to back years relegated his speed to simply average. And while Owens is also among the best in the league after the catch, Stokes and Streets are nothing special. And while Eric Johnson is big and sure-handed, he's not far enough along in his development to be called one of the NFL's premier tight ends.

Looking at the running backs, while Garrison Hearst went to the Pro Bowl last year and Kevan Barlow is quick emerging as a young star, neither of these two backs fit the 49ers' classic mold as quick, agile, all-around backs. Hearst is a darter who can take a bit of space and make a big gain out of it, and Barlow is a big, fast, powerful back. However, after the catch both are but average. Fullback Fred Beasley is relegated to a purely blocking role.

On the line, the days of the 49ers line being the lightest in the league are long gone. While Derrick Deese (6'3", 289 lbs.) and former starter Dave Fiore (6'4", 290) both fit the mold of the "classic" Niner lineman, the other three starters are decidedly bigger. Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry weighs in at 6'5" and 304 lbs. Right guard Ron Stone tips the scales at 6'5", 320 lbs. Right tackle Scott Gragg is biggest of them all, at 6'8" and 325 lbs. Top reserve Matt Willig weighs 315 lbs. and probable left guard starter after Fiore's injury, rookie Eric Heitmann, is 305 lbs. And while all are talented and capable, it's still not a line that I think Bill Walsh would like to run.

Even looking at the scheme, you can see the differences. The entire offense is calibrated off the running game, and has been ever since Steve Mariucci took over as head coach in 1997. And while one can hardly argue with the results (the Niners have been among the NFL's leading rushing teams every year since he took over), it's not the same. And with Rice's departure after the 2000 season, the passing game has been all about Owens, who was among the NFL's top receivers in every major category in 2001 and 2002. Remnants of the classic offense remain, as the tight end position is still among the busiest in the NFL no matter who lines up, and screens to the backs are still a part of the offense.

But it ain't the WCO. This is Mariucci-ball, through and through. In fact, looking around the league, the traditional West Coast offense has undergone such a dramatic evolution that even though over half the teams in the league use a version of it, the true offense is pretty much gone, lost in the annals of history. It's a complicated offense, and in a league where a coach's average lifespan is three years, the offense has to be dumbed down so teams can run it immediately. As such, it's been bastardized down to a hapless series of dink-and-dunk passes. Coordinators such as Mark Trestman and Paul Hackett have ruined the West Coast offense. Maybe forever.

So with this premise in mind, I decided that the reason the Niners and no other team can run the true WCO is due to lack of suitable personnel. It's a rare thing to see a team as perfectly constructed to run a scheme as those Niners teams of the '80s and early '90s were. So I pulled out a piece of paper and a pen and I went through the NFL and picked out, position by position, those players who I as an NFL general manager would acquire to run a modern version of the true West Coast Offense. And so now I give you:

THE ALL WEST-COAST OFFENSE TEAM!

Quarterback: The single most important position in the West Coast attack. The quarterback doesn't have to be a running back lined up under center, but he does have to be reasonably mobile. The biggest thing he has to have, though, is what can be best described as mojo. And I think you all know what I'm talking about. Poise under pressure. Charisma. Game smarts. That wonderful attribute so few QBs are blessed with, but the one that truly makes them special. Given those standards, a few QBs came to mind: Brett Favre, Rich Gannon, even Donovan McNabb were tossed around in my head. But I think my final pick will surprise you, dear reader. Because my choice to lead the All WCO Team is none other than...

Tom Brady.

Yes, THAT Tom Brady. Bemoan it as you will, dear reader, but I've seen two Patriots games this year and we all saw the Super Bowl last year. And I don't think it's too far off base to say that Brady has looked downright, well... Montana-like. He's got the mojo, he's got the mobility to make it work, and he's got the smarts, which is the most important thing. Brady's my man.

Wide Receiver: Chosen in accordance with the parameters detailed earlier, I looked far and wide for the NFL wideouts who best fit the mold of a fast, sure-handed playmaker, adept at making things happen after the catch. While the thought of Jerry Rice brought a smile to my face, wideouts in this offense need to be very fast to combat the Two Deep Zone defense that is plaguing the WCO these days, and Rice just doenst fit that bill anymore. In the end, I pegged three guys who best fit. The starters on this team are Torry Holt of the Rams and Troy Brown of the World Champion Patriots (which STILL sounds weird). Holt is one of the top young wideouts in the league and much better than aging teammate Isaac Bruce. And while he's been a late-bloomer, Brown exploded last year. He was always a capable slot receiver, and proved his mettle as a starter this and last year. Plus it's always been said he's best suited as a second option, able to work against the opposition's second best cover man, and that would be the case here. These two would push each other to new heights. And to come in on 3rd downs, I recruited the Buccaneers' Joe Jurevicius. A player who's extremely tall and deceptively fast like a young Ed McCaffrey, he'd make a great target on 3rd and short.

Tight End: The easiest choice to make. Tony Gonzalez is the best tight end in the NFL today, and maybe the best ever. Big as a wide receiver and faster than 95% of NFL linebackers, there's no one else who even made me bat an eye in consideration.

Running back: Though the NFL has seen a recent explosion in the prevalence of quality young all-around halfbacks (read: Ahman Green, Shaun Alexander, Edgerrin James), only one man fits the profile as a must-have kinda guy in the WCO, and that man is none other than Marshall Faulk. Yeah, he's getting up in years, and yeah, he's a damn Ram, but he's only the second player in NFL history to gain 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season, and he's the perfect choice to play in the role of the first man to do it, Craig.

Fullback: One could potentially make an argument for someone like Mike Alstott here, if only for his past accomplishments, but I dont know how effective he'd be in a true West Coast attack. It'd be interesting to see though, if only for the reason that he'd get to function as a second halfback, which he already pretty much is. And while Fred Beasley certainly has the talent, he's never produced on a consistent enough basis to garner true consideration. Nope, the logical choice is none other than Larry Centers, the man who holds the record for most receptions for a runningback, and still an awesome offensive threat.

Offensive line: The classic Niners line had smallish, athletic, versatile players at the tackle and guard slots surrounding a center who was smart enough to coordinate them all with on-the-fly calls.

At tackle, the lack of truly good tackles who fit the mold of this offense's linemen was exposed to me, but I did find a few who fit the mold. And while I was halfway tempted to just bite the bullet and find a big ol' left tackle like Steve Wallace was for so many years, I thought better of it. At left tackle, this squad lines up the Broncos' Matt Lepsis, which is approprite, since the Broncos' line is the one that comes closest to the old standard set by the 49ers. At right tackle, the Colts' Adam Meadows is the best right tackle no one knows about. He constantly shuts down pass rushers and dominates in the running game and makes life signifcantly easier for Peyton Manning.

At guard there were many more options, both veteran and younger. And while Dave Fiore was in the final running for a spot on this squad, his injury made my choices relatively easy. At left guard lines up Mike Compton of the Patriots, one of only three linemen in the league who has started at all five positions on the offense line, and a very good contributor to boot. At right guard is the Broncos' second lineman on this squad, one Dan Neil. Neil is well paid and a certified star among offense linemen, and is still pretty young. He'll provide much punch in the ground game.

The center position was the last and among the hardest to pick on the entire team. Because while Kevin Mawae of the Jets and Jeff Christy of the Bucs both fit the mold, the guy who stood out greatest in the end was Olin Kreutz of the Bears. One of the best known linemen in the league and a player with Hall of Fame potential, he's the perfect pivot on a well-constructed, light offensive line.

Didja get all that? In case you didn't, here's the final lineup:

QB Tom Brady
RB Marshall Faulk
FB Larry Centers
WR Torry Holt
WR Troy Brown
WR Joe Jurevicius
TE Tony Gonzalez
LT Matt Lepsis
LG Mike Compton
C Olin Kreutz
RG Dan Neil
RT Adam Meadows

And the best part is that this offense could fit under the current NFL salary cap and still allow their team to field a pretty decent defense. Aren't I a genius?

Don't like my picks? Think I'm an idiot? You're probably not alone. So sound off! If any of you out there are actually READING this shlock, email me at trevor@49ersparadise.cjb.net and let me know. If you send some good ideas you might get your name in next week's column.

To read how the All-WCO team would do in a real NFL game, check the Madden Simulator after the main article.

LAST WEEK'S GAME

Despite having about a third of the team on medical watch and despite getting but 114 yards passing for the game, the 49ers pulled out a solid victory over the Washington Redskins, 20-10.

With Jeff Garcia as the 49er most affected by the sickness (he was pulled after one series in the 3rd quarter), the Niners went back to basics, using a combination of different runs at the overrated Washington defense to pile up a gaudy 252 yards on the ground, their highest such output in nearly two years. Garrison Hearst was the game's leading rusher with 97 yards, and Kevan Barlow set a new career high with 94 yards rushing and one touchdown.

In fact, the biggest play of the game came on a run, but not from any of the usual suspects. After forcing Washington to punt about midway through the second quarter, the 49ers ran a reverse to Terrell Owens. Owens first looked to pass to JJ Stokes, but when that option was shut down he stopped, reversed field, got a killer block from Jeff Garcia and a couple more key blocks to cap an insane sprint to the end zone for a 38 yard touchdown run.

And to wit, while Washington made it a tough game early, the 49ers' defense played at a consistently high level and the offense ground out the necessary yards to log a victory without the team functioning anywhere near 100%.

NEXT WEEK'S GAME

Well actually, the 49ers don't have a game next week. But they do have a bye week, which will be very important to the team.

Heading into the bye week, the 49ers' biggest goal has to be gettin' healthy. This freak stomach virus could have been catastrophic to a team whose season was hanging in the balance going into Week 3. Instead, the 49ers kept the offense simple and relied on the defense to play its game and hope for the best. Victory was had, catastrophy avoided.

The second thing the Niners have to do is pull up game film of the Rams' first three games this year, all losses, and implement the same defensive game plan. Watching the second half of the Rams-Bucs game last night, one of the best things I saw was that at a crucial point in the game, the Bucs switched Simeon Rice, maybe the best pure pass-rushing right end in the game, to left end. The Rams didnt react, and Rice beat first Grant Williams and then John St. Clair on edge rushes to disrupt Kurt Warner.

In fact, the entire game was like that for the Buccaneers. They got in Warner's face all night and threw off his rhythm. Between that and the loss of Marshall Faulk, the Rams never really had a chance. The third and final thing the 49ers must do for this bye week is to actually genuinely implement the 49ers' true offense. I have a sneaking suspicion Steve Mariucci and Greg Knapp were playing things close to the vest for the first three weeks in an attempt to keep the Rams from having any film to gameplan off of. It would surprise me very little to see the 49ers come out in two weeks firing, with an offense more reminiscent of their awesome season in 1998 and shock the Rams early. Beating the Rams apparently isnt quite as much of an ordeal as it used to be, but still no team can afford to take them lightly, and the 49ers now have two weeks to gameplan and remain absolutely certain that they do not take them lightly.


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  Bye Week Blues
09/25/02
Seeing as how the 49ers donít actually HAVE a game this week, I figured Iíd mix up the Madden Simulator a bit. So this week, Trevorís Corner pits the All West Coast Offense Team against the 2001 St. Louis Rams. Iíd pit them against the 2002 Rams, but as we all know, they suck something fierce. For roster purposes, I used the 2002 49ers as the base for the All-WCO team. I kept the 49ersí defense and offensive backups and traded for the starters. And oddly enough, even though this matchup involved there being two Torry Holts and two Marshall Faulks on the field, my TV did not explode in a fiery paradoxical spectacle. Bonus. So here we go, a matchup of two heavyweights. Booyah.

Torry Holt never knew heíd have a day quite like this in his career, ever. The wide receiver caught 17 passes for 287 yards and 3 touchdowns in a victory. And a loss.

What?

Yeah yeah, I know. Read on.

The game began slowly, as both teams spent their first few series just feeling one another out. The game was scoreless through most of the 1st quarter, until the 49ers started getting involved in big plays, both good and bad. A fumble by the 49ersí Marshall Faulk recovered by London Fletcher set the Rams up in prime position to put some points on the board at St. Louisí 41 yard line. But on 3rd and 14 at the 49ersí 30 yard line, Kurt Warner dropped back to pass and was sacked by Tony Parrish on a perfectly executed safety blitz for a 10 yard loss. The Rams punted, and the All-WCO 49ers finally discovered their offensive rhythm.

The 49ersí Torry Holt had two receptions, including an 11 yard touchdown, on the Ninersí 5 play, 69 yard drive which put the first points on the board.

The teams exchanged a couple more punts before the Rams got the ball in their own territory with just under two minutes to play in the first half. A quick, efficient drive was highlighted by a gorgeous 26 yard catch-and-run by Isaac Bruce and an 18 yard Marshall Faulk run before capping with a 3 yard touchdown pass to the Ramsí Torry Holt.

The Rams kicked off to San Francisco and the 49ers took solid field position with 0:58 left in the half. On a masterful 2nd down play, 49ers quarterback Tom Brady deftly avoided the pass rush and hit Troy Brown on an 18 yard loft thrown off his back foot. Two plays later, took a quick dropback and saw the 49ersí Torry Holt blow by Aeneas Williams in coverage. Brady fired a bullet into Holtís waiting hands and 41 yards later, the 49ers led the game, 14-7.

San Francisco kicked off to Rams kick returner Yo Murphy who took the return and plunged into the 49ersí special teams unit, only to have the ball stripped by Terry Jackson. Saleem Rasheed recovered and the 49ers were again in business at the Ramsí 27 yard line. But with 0:14 left on the clock, they would only have one shot at the end zone. Bradyís pass in the back of the endzone was batted out of Joe Jureviciusí hands, and the 49ers settled instead for Jose Cortezís 44 yard field goal.

On the ensuing kickoff, Murphy more than made up for his fumble on the previous kickoff. He took the kickoff, broke two tackles, and sprinted through the 49ers special teams en route to an 86 yard touchdown.

All things told, In a first half where only seven points had been scored, a combined 17 points were scored in the last 0:18 seconds. An insane ending to an otherwise slow first half.

The Rams took the 3rd quarter kickoff and began driving again. Facing a 3rd and 5 at midfield, Warner dropped back and lofted a 21 yard pass to the Ramsí Torry Holt to keep the drive alive, but on the play Warner was injured and left the field. Sensing the dropoff in talent between Warner and backup Jamie Martin, the Niners pressured Martin early. But two plays after Warner left the game, Jamie Winborn got up in Martinís face and he responded by hitting Isaac Bruce for a 31 yard TD.

Looking to respond, the 49ers began their drive deep in their own territory. On 3rd and 3, Brady hit Larry Centers on a five yard screen. Centers broke two tackles however, and sprinted down the sideline to turn a short pass into a 32 yard gain.

The 49ers drove all the way to the Ramsí 10 yard line, but on 3rd and 5, Tony Gonzalez came back for a reception and was unable to get past the first down marker. His three yard reception set up a 30 yard field goal by Cortez, putting the score at 21-20 in favor of the Rams.

St. Louis took the field and looked dominant as ever as Warner, better after having the wind knocked out of him, marched the Rams smartly and efficiently down the field on a 5 play, 73 yard drive which ended with James Hodginsí 11 yard touchdown reception.

San Francisco quickly responded, using a drive that was mostly Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez hauled in a beautiful 27 yard catch-and-run in front of two defenders which set up his five yard TD reception 2 plays later. The 49ersí Marshall Faulk ran in the two-point conversion to tie the game at 28.

The Rams looked to lock up the game with the ball and 1:34 left on the clock. Their big play ability was never so obvious as the Rams scored in three plays. First, Warner flipped a 17 yard out to St. Louisí Torry Holt. On the subsequent play, he went over the top for a 38 yard beauty to Isaac Bruce. Then Marshall Faulk scored on a 17 yard draw play.

But the Ramsí quick-strike ability would wind up being the death of them. A great return by Troy Brown set the 49ers up at their own 39, and with 1:13 left, Brady and the 49ers offense took the field. A few quick passes put the 49ers at the Ramsí 42 yard line with 0:24 left on the clock and a 3rd and 4. But just when all looked lost, Brady dropped back and fired a ten yard slant to Brown. Brown split the safeties, put on the afterburners, and scored the TD to put the game at 35-34 Rams with 0:09 seconds left. The 49ers lined up to kick the extra point, but after the snap, holder Tom Brady stood up and flipped a pass out to Tony Gonzalez in the flat to tack on the 2-point conversion and give the 49ers the thrilling victory, 36-35.

Brady was named player of the game, completing 21/31 passes for 320 yards and 4 touchdowns and 0 INTs. His passer rating was a gaudy 142.6. When interviewed about his performance after the game, Brady commented ďUh yeah, thatís great, but... what am I doing here, exactly? I mean, one minute Iím preparing to play the Chargers this week, and the next Iím in a 49ers uniform, playing this team I already beat once.Ē

49ers coach Steve Mariucci, when asked about the productive offense he coached today, said, ďItís weird. We won, my top wideout had a huge game, AND heís not complaining? Itís like Iím in some kinda... fantasy world or something.Ē

The 49ersí Marshall Faulk commented, ďYeah, I was shaking the Ramsí playersí hands after the game, and I shook my own hand. I mean, MY OWN HAND. Does this seem weird to anyone else?Ē

The 49ers get their old offense back and get to play the much suckier 2002 Rams next week. Stay tuned for your next main article and Madden Simulator then.