WASHINGTON — Three-and-out. Three-and-out. Three-and-out.
Short of turning the ball over, it’s probably the worst scenario for a team’s offense — as well as a defense that keeps having to walk back onto the field after a shorter-than-expected rest.
Just ask Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers, who have run the obligatory three plays and punted five times in each of their last two games, a one-point loss to the Carolina Panthers and a three-point defeat to the New Orleans Saints.
“When you’re on the sideline, of course there’s frustration,” 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers said. “You’re sitting back there asking what’s going on. You know, ‘Move the ball, put some points on the board,’ especially if you’re playing real good on defense.”
Rogers then went out of his way to say there isn’t an offense-defense divide on the team, that each side has the other’s back, and that there will no doubt be days with the feelings are reversed.
“There’s going to be some weeks where teams are going to score on us and put up points,” Rogers said. “And the offense is going to be wondering, ‘Why we aren’t getting three-and-outs. Why we aren’t shutting people down?’ . They’ll get it together. They’ve got good players, a good coaching staff and have more players coming back. We’ll find a way.”
Kaepernick and the 49ers (6-4) will hope to find their way Monday night against the Washington Redskins (3-7). Forget, at least for now, trying to win the NFC West — San Francisco needs to stop the slide to keep pace in a crowded wild-card race.
The 49ers have gone three-and-out on 28.9 percent of their possessions this season, the fourth-worst percentage in the NFL, offering more evidence how defenses have adjusted to zone-read quarterbacks such as Kaepernick and the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III. Last year, those two looked poised to change the NFL; this year, both are proof that it’s hard to make an NFL living on zone-read and play-action alone.
Kaepernick’s passer rating is down 16 points from 2012, and Griffin III has dropped 18 points. Defenses have taken different approaches, with 49ers opponents crowding the line and daring Kaepernick to throw. Redskins foes are finding success by playing back and making Griffin do something he’s never had to do on a regular basis — work through his progressions to find an open receiver.
“Defenses are doing a great job on us, game-planning for us,” 49ers running back Frank Gore said. “We’ve been doing great on the running game, so everybody’s going to try to stop the run.”
When the prime-time schedule was announced in the spring, 49ers-Redskins featuring Kaepernick-Griffin looked like a no-brainer. Both players are still dynamic enough to make for compelling viewing, but Kaepernick hasn’t thrown for more than 200 yards since mid-October. Griffin already has thrown twice as many interceptions as he did all of last season.
“I think he feels very natural with the zone-read and some of the play-actions off of it,” Washington coach Mike Shanahan said of Griffin. “Some of the drop-back passing attack will take a little time.
“But he’s so sharp at picking things up. He can make any throw. Not many people have that ability to do that. The great part about it is the sky’s the limit for him in the future. There is going to be some growing pains. It’s not going to be automatic. We didn’t expect it to be automatic. But there will be growth in what we do with him as time goes on, and I think he’ll keep on getting better and better.”
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