What we know about the direction the 49ers’ offense is going to take in 2015 comes straight from general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York.
When new coach Jim Tomsula was asked about his philosophy, more than two weeks before promoting Geep Chryst from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, he did not get into specifics.
But Baalke did.
“I think somewhere in there, he said we’re going to run the football,” Baalke interjected after Tomsula's long answer did not provide much detail.
And York made it clear he wants to see a simplified offense with quarterback Colin Kaepernick running the ball more.
“How many quarterbacks in this league can run 90 yards for a touchdown? I can’t think of many,” York said last week on the NFL Network. “But you have to put Kap in a position where he can make those plays. And put Kap in a position where we can run the ball, we can throw the ball in ways that allow him to be successful and let him to be the absolute stud that he can be on the field.
“And I think that’s what you’re going to see from us next year. Defenses are not going to want to play against us because you’re not going to know where we’re going to hit you.”
Does that mean more read option?
The 49ers actually used the read option more in 2014 than any time in the regular season after Kaepernick became the starter for the final seven games of the 2012 season.
Last season, the 49ers ran the read option 68 times (an average of 4.25 times per game), according to Pro Football Focus. In 2013, they used it 55 times (3.4 per game), perhaps because of Kaepernick’s foot injury. And in seven games after he took over in 2012, the 49ers used it 4.1 times per game.
But Kaepernick kept the ball fewer times last season. After running the ball 22 times and averaging 2.9 yards per read-option run in 2013, Kaepernick ran 15 times on the read option in 2014 and averaged just 2.6 yards, according to PFF.
One 49ers source explained that defenses adjusted to force “the give” more. Also, Kaepernick actually kept more than he should have and took some losses as a result, according to the source. Carlos Hyde averaged 6.0 yards on 21 handoffs on the read option, while Frank Gore averaged 5.1 yards on 26 such plays.
The vast majority of Kaepernick’s rushing yards – he gained a career-high 639 yards last season – came on scrambles. His 90-yard touchdown run against the San Diego Chargers in Week 16 came out of necessity, as he escaped pressure up the middle after nose tackle Sean Lissemore got around center Marcus Martin.
During the NFC Championship game in January 2014, then-offensive coordinator Greg Roman unveiled planned runs that were designed to look like scrambles with receivers running down the field and never looking back for the ball. Kaepernick gained 130 yards rushing on 11 carries in that game.
It remains to be seen how much more the 49ers can get out of Kaepernick’s running in the future. But one area in which the 49ers can certainly get better is simply getting the ball out of Kaepernick’s hands in the passing game.
Kaepernick was sacked 52 times, but he had the fifth-longest time in the pocket (among 39 quarterbacks who played 25 percent of snaps or more) before sacks at 3.72 seconds, according to PFF.
Also, only six quarterbacks attempted more passes down the field of 20 yards or more. And of those ahead of him, Kaepernick had the highest percentage of deep throws at 14.4 percent of his attempts. However, the 49ers completed only 33.3 percent of his 69 deep pass attempts with four touchdowns and five interceptions.
York cited the Seahawks’ relatively simple approaches on offense and defense as mindsets he wants the 49ers to adopt.
So instead of opening up the playbook, the new 49ers figure to eliminate certain sections of the offense – most likely, a good number of the shifts, pre-snap adjustments and multiple play calls in the huddle.
"You look at Seattle," York said. "They have a fairly simple philosophy on both sides of the ball. But they let their players make plays. There is something to be said for that. I think you’ll see a lot of that from us."