5 Questions About OC Greg Roman

Chris Biderman, Editor-in-Chief and Lead Publisher of Niners Digest, took the time to answer five questions about Buffalo Bills OC Greg Roman. Here's a look at Roman's play calling, why his power running offense has been so successful and more!

1. Greg Roman seemed to get a lot of flack over his play calling in the last two seasons. Were 49ers fans right to blame Roman or did he take too much of the blame?

Chris Biderman: A bit of both. Roman’s play calling left a lot to be desired in 2014, particularly in the red zone. But as fans typically do, they often overlook the players on the field when distributing blame. The 49ers offense had a lot of trouble executing this season for a myriad of reasons, starting with an offensive line that saw eight different combinations used. 

The tight ends weren’t healthy either. Jim Harbaugh’s and Roman’s offense was highly reliant on their tight ends’ versatility over the last three seasons and had three tight ends finish the season on injured reserve on top of Vernon Davis having the worst statistical season of his career. 

But it was Roman’s job to put the 49ers in situations to succeed, which meant committing to the down-hill running game that was the team’s staple of the previous three seasons. They moved away from that in 2014, hoping to evolve Colin Kaepernick into a more complete pocket passer. But Kaepernick didn’t take those steps and, on top of everything else, led to a perfect storm of offensive disfunction.

2. Roman is known for his power-running attack. What made his running attack so successful in San Francisco?

CB: It started with the offensive line. San Francisco had three first-round picks along the offensive line and an undrafted right guard, Alex Boone, who became one of the league’s better interior lineman when he was inserted into the starting lineup in 2012. 

But Roman found creative ways to utilize the running game to all directions. But without right tackle Anthony Davis for the majority of the season, the 49ers struggled became teams would overload to one side, taking advantage of Davis’ backup, Jonathan Martin, who isn’t known to have the same mean streak.

Having Colin Kaepernick’s mobility certainly helped, particularly when he first became starter three seasons ago. His speed meant teams had to keep a linebacker free on read-option plays, which helped Frank Gore in a big way. 

3. Buffalo's guard play was troublesome in 2014. Could you see Roman pursue Mike Iupati to strengthen Buffalo's OL? Are there any other 49er FAs you think Roman may want to bring to the Buffalo Bills with him?

CB: Any team with enough cap space to pay a guard $7-9 million per season will be taking a strong look at Iupati, who is one of the most dominant run-blocking guards in the NFL. And with Roman now in Buffalo, that would be a natural fit.

Roman loved to have Iupati pull, becoming a fearsome lead blocker in the second level for the 49ers running backs. But Iupati was not great in pass protection this season, allowing seven sacks according to Pro Football Focus, which might indicate he’s better on offenses that look to run the ball at a high rate. He didn’t appear healthy last season after breaking his ankle in last winter’s conference title game in Seattle, but started 15 games. His only missed start came after sustaining a concussion in October.

As far as other free agents go, the two other starters without contracts for 2015 are receiver Michael Crabtree and running back Frank Gore. Crabtree will likely want top dollar on the open market and would prefer to go to a team with a top-flight quarterback. And I’m not sure Crabtree was enamored with Roman’s style. Gore could be intriguing for Buffalo. But he’s made it known he either wants to come back to the 49ers (depending on who the next coach is) or leave to join a contender - which points to teams in Indianapolis or New England ilk.

4. Buffalo currently has Fred Jackson, Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown and possibly C.J. Spiller (can void the final year of his contract) at running back. Do you see any of them as great fits for Roman's system? Is there one back in this year's draft class that you think would be a great fit for Roman?

CB: Roman should be able to find ways to utilize those guys effectively, particularly Jackson. His use of Spiller will be interesting. With San Francisco, Roman had a tough time utilizing the team’s speedy runnings backs, often dialing up outside runs that became predictable when teams broke down the tape. Kendall Hunter had some success, but LaMichael James flamed out. 

Roman also rarely used screens, for reasons unknown, which should be something he utilizes with Spiller in particular. His down-hill running game requires the running backs to have patience when hitting the holes inside to let blocks develop. I’m not sure if Spiller has developed those kinds of skills yet. But Roman has been known for his keen designs in running plays and should find ways to utilize Spiller’s speed.

5. Do you feel that Roman can help EJ Manuel develop at QB? 

CB: The biggest knock on Roman, and perhaps Harbaugh, was the inability to develop a consistent downfield passing game. After teams had three season’s of Roman’s tape to digest, they adjusted accordingly in 2014 and really made it tough for the 49ers to push the ball down the field. But they didn’t have a receiver like Sammy Watkins, either.

Roman’s forte is the running game, without a doubt. And most of Kaepernick’s success in his first season when the 49ers reached the Super Bowl came with the use of the read option and play action. It made things easier for Kaepernick because his reads were far from complex when he first took over.

A lot of that success stemmed from Kaepernick being a relative unknown when he became starter. It allowed Roman to implement a completely redesigned offense midway through the season throwing opponents for a loop. With a team and new quarterback in Manuel, there’s the chance he could do the same thing. Given that defense, Roman will likely focus on ball control and running game tempo to compliment what should be a great defense with Rex Ryan at the helm.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if Roman advocated for taking a quarterback early in the draft to mold into a potential starter. However, this doesn’t appear as a very good draft for quarterbacks, so Roman may be forced to figure it out with Manuel.


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