Against all odds, there is actually a glimmer of hope emerging out of the chaotic wasteland that was the San Francisco 49ers 2015 offseason. Just one game into the season it’s evident that new head coach Jim Tomsula has already established a clear-cut identity — something that has been missing since 2013.
This team is going to pound the ball with a relentless rushing attack on offense and it will attack, attack, attack the line of scrimmage with a ruthless, varied array of blitzes on defense. It was as physical a performance as we’ve seen from this team in a long, long time.
— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) September 15, 2015
The new approach was clearly demonstrated in the team’s 20-3 blowout win at home over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1, and it echoed statements made by Tomsula during his awkward introductory press conference.
“I firmly believe that’s what the sport is — hit within the rules and safely but with everything you have and as aggressively as you can do it,” said Tomsula, a longtime defensive-line coach, via the Sacramento Bee.
It wasn’t elegant. It wasn’t complicated. But football isn’t a complicated game.
For all the good Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman did for this franchise, the former head coach and offensive coordinator never did manage to establish and then maintain an identity on offense. Furthermore, they tried to turn quarterback Colin Kaepernick into something he is not — a carry-the-team-on-his-back franchise passer in the mold of Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck.
Under Tomsula’s leadership, the message is crystal clear: The 49ers are a run-first team.
And that’s a good thing.
New offensive coordinator Geep Chryst called a masterful game on Monday night. He utilized the team’s core strengths to perfection, sending Carlos Hyde into the teeth of Minnesota’s defense with a regularity 49ers fans haven’t seen in quite some time.
The zone scheme is tailor-made for Hyde, whose ability to change direction left the nation in stunned disbelief when he utilized a Barry Sanders-approved spin move to devastating effect on this touchdown run.
— Taylor Price (@TaylorPrice) September 15, 2015
Hyde carried the ball 26 times for 168 yards with two touchdowns — the kind of bell-cow approach 49ers fans have been begging to see the past few years.
Last season, Frank Gore only had one game in which he matched that number of carries, and he had less than 20 carries an astonishing 12 times in 16 games. The way the former coaching staff misused its greatest weapon never made any sense, and this was one of many problems Tomsula and his staff have rectified this summer.
Tempo, tempo, tempo
Another huge change this summer was the tempo implemented by Tomsula, who was fervent about making sure his offense got in and out of the huddle as swiftly as possible — something the Vikings apparently didn’t realize was coming their way on Monday night.
Under the leadership of Harbaugh, at best, the 49ers struggled to get plays called with enough time to get the offense into a rhythm.
At worst, the 49ers were forced to burn timeouts because there wasn’t enough time left on the play clock, and delay-of-game penalties were rampant. The 35 delay-of-game penalties accepted by opposing coaches against the 49ers between 2011-14 “led” the league.
They always seemed to be searching for that magical call that would change the game.
But that rarely occurred.
This is something Tomsula addressed recently, perhaps throwing a bit of shade in the direction of former leadership in this regard.
“The players win games. The magic call, if you’re searching too hard for a call you probably have more problems than that call,” he said, via NinersNation.com.
Despite the crazy turnover this franchise endured this past winter and into the summer with the release of Aldon Smith, San Francisco’s roster remains loaded with talent on both sides of the ball.
Defense looks just fine, despite heavy losses
Many wondered how the team’s defense would be able to respond after losing key leaders in Justin Smith and Patrick Willis. Furthermore, after losing Chris Culliver to free agency, Chris Borland to retirement and Aldon Smith because of personal issues, most experts predicted a tremendous drop-off in production this year.
Based on the efforts seen in preseason and through Week 1, those concerns should be significantly lessened. If anything, as predicted here by yours truly, the current defensive roster, along with the aggressive scheme of coordinator Eric Mangini, will create havoc and turnovers with regularity.
San Francisco sacked Teddy Bridgewater five times for a cumulative loss of 54 yards in Week 1 and intercepted one pass. The second-year quarterback was uncharacteristically inaccurate, thanks to all the pressure, and Minnesota’s offense never got into much of a groove.
Even more surprising to most was the mere 31 yards accumulated on 10 carries by Adrian Peterson, who was absolutely pummeled by the swarm of defenders he encountered every time he received a hand-off.
It was a dominating performance, and one that certainly put the league on notice.
Games are meant to be fun
There is no arguing the fact that San Francisco was an uptight team in the final couple of seasons under Harbaugh. The overwhelming national pressure, as well as the relentless pressure Harbaugh put on EVERYONE all the time, caused players to play tight. As a result, mistakes were commonplace.
Tomsula’s approach couldn’t be more of a polar opposite to that of Harbaugh’s.
“I want people to have fun playing football,” Tomsula said back in January, via ESPN.com.
This was on full display for the nation to see on Monday Night Football, when the coach was caught giving his players the goofiest smile you’ll ever see in the middle of the first half.
Thanks to Tomsula’s laid-back approach, and perhaps partly because of lessened national expectations, the 49ers came out and played really loose for the most part, barring a hiccup or two during the first half. Loose players make big-time plays, which were abundant during the team’s opening game.
Long road yet untraveled, but the 49ers are well on their way
The 49ers have the talent to sneak into the playoffs, but one game isn’t going to get them there.
It would be foolish to think this team won’t have its fair share of struggles in 2015. While everything mostly went their way at home against a young Vikings team, nobody should be shocked if the 49ers lay an egg or two along the way this season, especially on the road.
That said, there is no doubt the team is moving in the right direction. With clear-cut identities on both sides of the ball, along with an impressive group of special-teams players, this is a team that should continue playing well throughout the season under new leadership.