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Grant Cohn: It comes to pass for 49ers

  • Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton after the Panthers' 10-9 win at Candlestick Park in November. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

SANTA CLARA — The 49ers face a version of themselves this Sunday.

If the 49ers are a “Bob,” the Panthers are a “Roberto.”

For the most part, the 49ers and Panthers are the same team: Excellent, hard-hitting defenses. Quarterbacks who run and throw. Offenses built around running the ball. And coaches who are the sons of coaches – football brats. Jim Harbaugh is the son of Jack Harbaugh, the former college coach. And the Panthers' offensive coordinator, Mike Shula, is the son of Don Shula, the Hall of Fame head coach.

The difference between Bob and Roberto — the “erto” — is the difference between Jim and Mike. Jim and Mike coach the passing game differently. Jim coaches a simplified passing game and Mike coaches a complicated passing game. The “erto” is a synonym for complicated.

Trent Dilfer, who played for Shula when Shula was the Buccaneers' offensive coordinator from 1996 to 1999 and currently is an analyst for ESPN, recently told a Bay Area radio station there are no progressions in the 49ers' passing game. “They're calling a play for a defense, for a player and, if that play is called wrong, that second, third, fourth option isn't going to get the ball very often. They don't have the type of offensive structure and Colin isn't the type of quarterback that there are five eligible receivers and anyone can get the ball.”

This style of passing offense allows coaches to do most of the thinking, and it makes quarterback, the most difficult position in sports, much easier to play: Just fire the ball to the primary receiver if he's open and, if he's covered, run for your life.

When the 49ers' passing game is clicking and Kaepernick is hitting wide-open receiver after wide-open receiver, that means Greg Roman is guessing correctly. He's calling plays designed to get one player open against the type of coverage he expects the opposing team to use on that play. When Roman guesses incorrectly, you don't see Kaepernick reset his feet and find his second and third targets. There are no second and third targets. Those guys are decoys clearing space. When Roman guesses incorrectly, Kaepernick has to flip the ball to a running back in the flat, or scramble, or get sacked.

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