The Press Democrat

Fassel acts where Mariucci stands pat
January 04, 2003

SANTA CLARA -- Steve Mariucci and Jim Fassel are head coaches with offensive backgrounds.

When things were not going well for the New York Giants through the first half of the season, Fassel took control of the team's offense and started calling the plays himself.

The move apparently has worked for the Giants, who won seven of nine games since Fassel took over the play-calling duties and visit Candlestick Park on Sunday to face the 49ers in a first-round NFC playoff game.

Although the 49ers' play-calling has been scrutinized this season, Mariucci said he has never considered taking over that responsibility from offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.

That's because Mariucci staunchly supports every call Knapp dials up during games.

What the 49ers do best is throw safe, high-percentage passes and mix in the running game to make sure they get in few third-and-long situations. As a result, the 49ers' 52.3 percent success on third downs this season was the second-highest conversion rate in league history.

What the 49ers do not do best is rely on quarterback Jeff Garcia to take seven-step drops and chuck the ball down the field.

"Have we had the success down the field like you'd hope? Not quite," Mariucci said. "We've had occasions when we're successful down the field. We do what we do best, whatever that is. Every year you do what you do best. That's how we play the games."

The 49ers' offense ranked eighth in the league in total yards. The run game was No. 6, the passing game 14th.

"My personal belief has always been if you keep a balance," Knapp said, "the guy on the other side of the field, has to say, 'What are they going to do, run or pass?' And they have to call the defense accordingly."

Knapp is in his second season as the team's primary play-caller, replacing former offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who called plays for two seasons. Mariucci called the plays in his first two seasons with the 49ers.

Mariucci's philosophy has been preached to his assistants, especially those entrusted with calling the plays.

"We run the football to run the football and also to set up our play-action game and (rollouts) with Jeff because he's so important on the move," Mariucci said.

Knapp said the 49ers' ability to run the ball has taken some of the heat off receiver Terrell Owens, whose production Sunday likely will be a key to the game.

Early in the season, the 49ers saw large doses of two-deep zones, a defense in which each safety is responsible for half the field in deep coverage. But because both safeties are deep, the defense is susceptible to a good running attack.

Knapp said he doesn't expect to see as much two-deep coverage from the Giants as he saw when the teams met in the first week of the regular season because Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow can make them pay the price.

"That's what's going to help us in this game," Knapp said. "We've shown we can run the ball, so they can't just play a soft defense against us."

Unlike Mariucci, Fassel obviously saw things he would change with his offense this season.

When the Giants were struggling with a 3-4 record, Fassel decided to pull a power play on offensive coordinator Sean Payton. Fassel said he thought the offense was trying to be too cute, so he cut down on the array of motions and shifts and got back to basics.

The Giants averaged 12.7 points a game before Fassel started calling the plays, and 25.7 with him at the controls. Their average yards per game has gone from 333.7 to 387.7.

Fassel said it was important for him to take accountability for the offense. In essence, if he was going to lose his job -- the rumors were flying in New York -- he wanted to be responsible for his own demise.

"I'm the head coach," Fassel said. "If any area is not functioning, then I'm going to take control of it. That is what they pay me to do. Sometimes, you can walk away and put the finger on somebody else and absolve yourself of the blame, but that's not my personality."

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