Greg Roman is a lot of things — mad scientist, extremely creative, pretty vague during press conferences (more on that later).
He’s also a chess player, as we heard in his response today to a question about one of the hottest issues in Niners Nation (or Empire, if you prefer): timeouts.
“We don’t want to mindlessly waste timeouts, but if it allows us to capture a rook, a king, a queen, as opposed to a pawn, then it’s cost-benefit analysis. And when you look at it, it’s about making those decisions and what’s in your best interest of winning.”
See, Roman isn’t interested in yardage totals or instant gratification, which certainly doesn’t boost his popularity among a generation of 49ers fans obsessed with fantasy football who’d prefer to see their team blow everyone out. But when a columnist asked a relatively innocuous question about how the offense seems to be performing a lot better now after an “up-and-down” year, Roman got a little defensive.
“We were 12-4 during the regular season. That’s what we’re after. I don’t know what everybody else is after, but we’re trying to win,” said the 49ers offensive coordinator.
In the world of winning, points are more important than yards. The 49ers were 24th in the league during the regular season in total yards, but they were 11th in points. More to the point, they only turned the ball over 18 times, fewer than every team in the league besides Indianapolis (14) and Kansas City (also 18).
Many would call that a conservative way of doing things, but Roman and Jim Harbaugh don’t care. Their goal is to win a Super Bowl, and in their first two years with the 49ers they’ve come pretty danged close. Instead of taking the easy route on offense at every opportunity, Roman sees every play and every game as a way to set things up for later.
Last year, after averaging 24.8 ppg (11th in the NFL, coincidentally) during the regular season, the 49ers averaged 34.7 ppg in the playoffs. They only scored 23 on Sunday in Green Bay, but one would have to imagine that in San Francisco that game probably would’ve seen far greater point totals for both sides.
That brings us to the 49ers’ next test: a road game in Carolina against a Panthers team that held the 49ers to just three field goals and kept Colin Kaepernick under 100 passing yards.
“That definitely wasn’t our best day at the office,” Roman said. “When you go back, all the answers are on the film. There were some very unique things that took place in that game. It was a little bit of a perfect storm. It was a long time ago. We’re a different outfit than we were that day and we’ll be playing in a land far, far away.”
The 49ers turned the ball over twice and went 2-for-13 on third down conversion attempts in that game. They also lost Vernon Davis early on in that game to a concussion, and Michael Crabtree was still a few weeks away from making his return. But personnel may not be the only thing different about the 49ers’ offense when they face the Panthers a second time. With Roman’s habit of thinking several plays and/or games in advance, I asked him the following question.
Q: You made a chess analogy earlier. When you go against a team like Carolina that you might face in the playoffs, are you thinking several moves ahead? You might call a different game against a team like that during the regular season?
Roman: I mean, I think you evolve as a team throughout the season and I think we’re a very different team now than we were then from a lot of different angles. You’re definitely going to call a game a little bit different relative to who you have and what you’re doing at that time. But you can definitely gather some good insight in the prior game. But that doesn’t mean they’re not going to change it up, too. Playoff games usually come down to what those two teams do best, and that’s probably what’s going to happen Sunday.
What do the 49ers do best? On offense, the answer is clearly running the ball. Frank Gore only got 16 carries the first time they faced the Panthers, which seemed weird at the time because he averaged 5.1 yards per carry and openings in the passing game were nonexistent. Who got the most targets against Carolina? Shockingly, it was Mario Manningham with six.
Gore’s still around and a proven playoff performer, and Manningham is on injured reserve. So look for Gore to get the rock a little more often this time around, when Kaepernick isn’t throwing the ball to Crabtree, Davis and Anquan Boldin. The Panthers have one of the best defenses in football and the 49ers aren’t going to throw caution to the wind, but chances are they’ll do better than nine points and 151 total yards in Sunday’s rematch … a game that counts much more than when the 49ers and Panthers first met.
On the job front …
Chris Biderman reported that Roman did not travel back with the team after the Green Bay game, because he was interviewing for a head coaching job. Bruce Feldman was told by a source that Roman interviewed for the head coaching job at Penn St. Roman was asked about that today, and he neither confirmed nor denied the report.
“Speculation. Not going to comment on it. Rumors, watercooler talk,” Roman said. “I’m sure there are a lot of rumors floating around out there, but really irrelevant. Focused on this game and beating the Panthers.”
(Roman is probably a pretty good poker player, too.)
As for Vic Fangio, who has also been the subject of some head coach “speculation,” he says nothing’s up.
“I’ve had no contact (with any team),” said the 49ers defensive coordinator.