SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The San Francisco 49ers are spreading the ball around on offense like never before with Mike Johnson pulling the strings.
In just his sixth game after being promoted to offensive coordinator Sept. 27, Johnson assembled a diversified attack last week against the St. Louis Rams that produced more yards from scrimmage than any San Francisco offense since 2004.
The result was a 23-20 overtime victory that gave the 49ers their first winning streak of the season and has their offensive playmakers excited about the way they all are getting involved.
“The difference in our offense is that little spin that our new offensive coordinator has put in,” tight end Delanie Walker said Thursday. “It’s opened up the playbook and given everybody opportunities to make plays down the field.”
Walker, San Francisco’s complement to Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis, led the 49ers with four catches for 80 yards against the Rams. Walker was one of five players to have at least 60 yards receiving, the first time that has happened in a game in franchise history.
The 49ers are scoring 20.3 points a game since Johnson took control of the offense compared to 12.7 points in the first three games of the season under former coordinator Jimmy Raye.
San Francisco also is averaging 26 yards a game more under Johnson, and it’s not just because the 49ers are going to the air more. The offense continues to revolve around Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore, who still got 22 carries against the Rams despite the team being in comeback mode. Gore had 154 yards from scrimmage against St. Louis and ranks second in the NFL in that category with 1,193 yards.
“It’s a great thing we have going on, especially when we complete passes down the field,” said Gore, who ranks third in the NFC with 778 yards rushing. “Now people can’t just think that we’re only going to run the ball.”
Gore, Walker, Davis and starting wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan each had at least 61 yards receiving as the Rams designed their defensive game plan to stop Gore and the 49ers took advantage. Four of those five players had at least one reception of 30 yards or more as Troy Smith averaged 20.9 yards on his 17 completions.
After taking over as the starter for an injured Alex Smith late last month, Troy Smith has added a new dimension to the offense with his strong arm, ability to keep plays alive and confidence to take chances.
“The one thing I want to do is encourage daring,” said Johnson, the team’s quarterbacks coach before being promoted. “I want to encourage the stuff that he has inside and allow that to come out without stifling that. Troy played well last week, but it’s all a part of putting the pieces together and just evolving and putting all the complements to the core running game that we have.”
Johnson also is getting his offensive assistants more involved. Each is getting an opportunity to speak to the entire group during offensive team meetings.
Walker said that never has happened before in his five years with the 49ers.
“There’s definitely different wrinkles than the way we were designed early and the way I was taught to coach,” Johnson said.
“We all work together and I do lean on those other guys a lot. We have different areas that we have strengths in and I utilize those guys in areas where they’re strong and allow them to bring things to the table that help our offense.”
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