49ers Victory Not Enough for Fans Seeking Style Points

Backlash over conservative game plan suggests winning with "blue-collar" football doesn't sit well.

The Faithful’s criticism of the 49ers game plan against the Seattle Seahawks in Sunday’s opener came fast and furious.

Too conservative. We’re playing not to lose. Take a few shots at the end zone. We’re becoming a field-position team. Let Alex throw the ball. Where is the imagination?

Imagine if the 49ers had lost.

One game into the Harbaugh Era, the biggest talking point is how bland the offense looked in a 33-17 win. That begs the question: Do the 49ers need to play with style points or would a return winning football be enough?

Let’s put it another way: How would the Faithful feel if San Francisco morphed into an NFC version of the Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers – a perennial playoff contender that favors an offense with more grunt than glamor?

Sure, it was only one game. And yes, head coach Jim Harbaugh was probably loathe to throw open his playbook when he didn’t need to do it to beat Seattle. But the 49ers certainly evoked thoughts of Baltimore and Pittsburgh in their opener, from a decidedly low-risk, run-heavy offense to a punishing defense that registered five sacks and three takeaways.

At least for one week, the mantra seemed to be protection. Protect the ball, protect the quarterback, protect the lead.

And it worked. San Francisco was the only team throughout the league not to allow a sack or throw an interception in Week 1. And it was one of just four teams to play a turnover-free game.

Even so, critics were quick to bemoan the team’s 1-for-12 conversion rate on third downs and the apparent contentedness in seeing four red-zone possessions end up as field goals. Frank Gore’s 22 carries despite an average of 2.7 yards didn’t sit well, and neither did Alex Smith’s 124 passing yards.

Harbaugh may have lauded “a very blue-collar type of day” for his offense, but many fans immediately recoiled as those words harkened flashbacks to the ill-fated Nolan and Singletary regimes.

But what if Harbaugh succeeds where his predecessors failed? Would it be enough if he brings winning football back to the Bay, but that it’s with more grunt than glamour?

Bob Winters September 15, 2011 at 03:06 PM
The 49ers claimed Scott Tolzien off waivers from the Chargers. I've only seen him play in one game (where he almost beat the Niners), but he was impressive. http://blog.49ers.com/2011/09/04/49ers-claim-tolzien-sign-practice-squad/
magic man September 15, 2011 at 03:25 PM
thats who i want to start--scott tolzien
Patrick Talbot Hall September 15, 2011 at 09:45 PM
Alex Smith has one less interception that Tom Brady and one more win than Cam Newton. And he was not blocking on the offensive line when they could not open a hole for Frank Gore at first and goal. Patrick
Timothy Rath September 17, 2011 at 12:36 AM
I agree with Patrick. Give Alex Smith a chance to go a pass-happy offense. He has the receivers. In my opinion, a run-heavy offense is a sign that the coach is thinking simply — given that Harbaugh is a rookie head coach from the college ranks, where he is likely used to running (at least before Andrew Luck) — and this is a disturbing sign. But, Scott, the Cowboys are a better bellwether than the Seahawks, don't you think? If Smith can't pass to Crabtree, Edwards, and Davis against the Cowboys' overrated secondary, the 49ers have reason to concern themselves. Seattle is a punching bag.
Jim Hunter September 20, 2011 at 10:11 PM
Playing it safe and winning is one thing. But Harbaugh’s risk-averse decision-making cost the Niners dearly against Dallas. The coaching staff seemed like it was in a ‘prevent defense’ in the fourth quarter, starting with the decision to uphold the 55-yard field goal. Go for the jugular! SF won’t beat any playoff-caliber teams until it starts taking a lot more chances. Let’s see what Alex Smith’s got – once and for all.


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