As the 49ers head into their final preparations for the Super Bowl, many feel as if they have an ace up their sleeve.
That ace – or more accurately a wild card -- is offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Roman is the man behind the 49ers’ unorthodox offense, the coach responsible for introducing the Pistol, the read-option, old-fashioned full-house backfields, power goal-line formations with two extra linemen at midfield and all the other wrinkles San Francisco has shown opponents this season.
With two weeks to prepare for the Ravens in their Super Bowl XLVII matchup Sunday in New Orleans, who knows what surprises Roman will introduce?
“I think he visits some football muse at like 2 in the morning and comes up with designs that are very creative – destructively creative,” 49ers quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst told Sports Illustrated’s Jim Trotter this week. “You ask, ‘Can we really do this? Can we really line up this way?’ It’s his way of having fun, and he presents it to the players as having fun. Hey, let’s try something that’s a little bit different out there.”
Make no mistake, it will be the performance of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, running backs Frank Gore and LaMichael James, the offensive line and the receiving corps that will have to put points on the board against the Ravens. And the Baltimore defense has given up just four touchdowns in three playoff games. But it is Roman who the past two seasons has been the coach responsible for coming up with some creative ways to put them into positions to succeed.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh, who brought Roman with him from his staff at Stanford, has been effusive in his praise of his coordinator this week. Particularly for the way Roman has been creative in making San Francisco’s running game one of the best in the NFL.
“I think Greg Roman has done a job that is revolutionary in football,” Harbaugh said at a news conference this week. “I think the way he has mixed the trap, the power, the wham plays into the Pistol offense and into our conventional offense has been revolutionary in many ways.”
In two playoff victories over the Packers and Falcons, the Niners have 472 rushing yards (236 yards per game), an average of 6.6 yards per carry. San Francisco does it from a variety of sets and with extra linemen, tight ends and fullback Bruce Miller coming at defenders from all angles.
Under Roman, the 49ers run old-fashioned traps and counter plays, which many teams in the league stopped running years ago.
“When we call traps and stuff, I think to myself, ‘When was the last time we ran a trap, high school? ” right guard Alex Boone told 49ers.com this week. “We never really ran them in college, but I think that’s what makes G-Ro so great. He understands football to another level. He understands when things will work and when they’ll be good. That’s what makes him the best offensive coordinator.”
Both 49ers players and his fellow coaches say what separates Roman from other coordinators is his flexibility and willingness to try new things or go in new – or old – directions.
When Roman came to the 49ers, he and Harbaugh decided that they would go against the NFL trend toward zone-blocking schemes and use a more old-fashioned power-blocking scheme. Roman and Harbaugh are both big believers in the importance of a power running game – as is Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh – and the 49ers reflect that belief.
Miller, the fullback, says the sophistication of the 49ers running game is far above most in the league. Roman tinkers with every play to get the best blocking possible.
“It’s a lot of fun for me because I get to move around a lot,” Miller told Sports Illustrated. “He comes up with schemes that give guys great angles to block from. And he’s always game specific. Whatever he thinks will work against that opponent is what we’re going to use. We might call the same play but block it up a little differently depending on the opponent.”
Roman, in explaining some of his thinking this week – particularly the 49ers’ penchant for a power-blocking scheme over zone blocking – said he was just looking for a way to give his offense an advantage.
“We kind of took the opposite approach and said, ‘Let’s be counter-cultured and let’s do things that people don’t work on,’ ” he told ESPN.com. “Anything we can do to get our players an advantage.”