Thursday, October 4, 2012

Defensive Matchups vs Buffalo

Heading into their week 5 contest let's take a look at how the 49ers defense matches up with the Bills offense.  The Bills offense features a run game that is predominately zone based, almost all running taking place between the tackles and a strong screen passing game.  They like to keep their TE and a RB in the game at all times, even when they go to a 4 receiver spread look or empty backfield.  As a result, look for the 49ers to play a lot of Nickle this week, especially if they are able to effectively shut down the run with this package.

Bills offensive line vs 49ers defensive line

Looking at the Bills offensive line the first stat that jumps out is the impressive sack total.  Through their first 4 games they have given up only 4 sacks.  A deeper inspection into that total though shows that 3 of those came last week in their loss to the Patriots.  Also impacting this unit coming into this week will be 2 key injuries suffered last week to LT Cordy Glenn and RG Kraig Urbik.  Bills coach Chan Gailey has confirmed that both will be out for this week.

Instead of facing Glenn, Aldon Smith will be facing Chris Hairston, a 2nd year player out of Clemson who started 7 games for Buffalo in 2011.  The drop off from Glenn to Hairston against NE was noticeable, and all though he did not give up a sack, Hairston often was pushed back collapsing the left side of the pocket.

Next to A Smith, veteran Justin Smith draws Bay Area native Andy Levitre.  Levitre has started every game since joining the Bills in 2009, and has been the Bills most consistent lineman thus far.  He often holds up very well in pass protection, but if Smith can force Levitre to need help it will free up Aldon to be 1-on-1 with Hairston.

The right side of the Bills offensive line struggled the most against NE, as they combined to give up all 3 of the sacks on the day.  RG Chad Rinehart was beaten for a sack on his first play of the game, and RT Erik Pears had a difficult time keeping Patriots OLB Rob Ninkovich in check.  Look for Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks to give them fits with their combination of power and speed.

Advantage: 49ers

TE Scott Chander/RB CJ Spiller vs Patrick Willis/Navarro Bowman

The Bills rarely line Chandler up on the line of scrimmage, most often they have him off the line and will motion him prior to the snap.  Due to this Willis and Bowman will each find themselves in coverage on the Bills' 3rd leading receiver.  Thus far Chandler has 12 receptions for 175 yards and 1 TD.  Willis and Bowman have already faced 3 TE's who provide a more difficult matchup than Chadler.  I see their speed allowing them to take away this option from Fitzpatrick, forcing him to go outside.

CJ Spiller is a speedy RB who is a big threat for the Bills in their screen game.  The 49ers defense has shown themselves to be susceptible to the screen, and it will be up to Willis and Bowman to sniff those plays out early and take this option away from Buffalo.

Advantage: 49ers

Bills WR's vs 49ers CB's

The Bills like to line up with 3 WR's most of the time, with Stevie Johson and TJ Graham playing on the outside and Donald Jones in the slot.  Of this group Graham has the fewest receptions (8), and the lowest average yards per catch (8.1).  The Bills like to get him the ball on quick outside screen throws with a single blocker in front of him, a play that the 49ers have shown some difficulty with over the last 2 weeks.  On the other side, Johnson leads the Bills in receptions (15).  He is the bigger threat vertically, and is a key piece to Ryan Fitzpatrick finding his rhythm.

It will be interesting to see how the 49ers decide to matchup with these two.  My best guess is that we will see T Brown on Graham, and Culliver on Johnson due to Johnson being their biggest threat and the 49ers often will match Culliver up with the oppositions best threat.

Donald Jones (13 catches) has been used primarily in the slot as of late.  He is a much better matchup for Carlos Rogers than those of the last 2 weeks.  Jones does not run quite as many underneath option routes, which cause Rogers fits at times.  Although he has struggled a bit the last couple of weeks, I look for Rogers to have a bounce back performance this week.

Advantage: 49ers

Ryan Fitzpatrick vs 49ers D

After a great start through the first 7 weeks of 2011 in which he had 14 TD's and 7 Int's, Fitzpatrick has really struggled over his last 13 games.  During that span Fitzpatrick has thrown 23 Int's to go with 22 TD's.  The Bills coaches often try to get him in rhythm early on with short screen passes, and they feature a lot of play action off their zone run scheme.

Fitzpatrick is very mobile, and while no one will mistake him for Michael Vick, he does an excellent job of getting positive yardage when flushed out of the pocket, however he does not often try to get rid of the ball under these circumstances.  It will be essential for the 49ers front 7 to take advantage of the Bills' injuries on the offensive line, and to maintain their rush lanes to keep him from escaping the pocket.  He does not have a very strong presence in the pocket, often falling onto his back leg when faced with a rush, causing his passes to sail and come out with less zip, leading to opportunities for the defense to cause a turnover.

Advantage: 49ers

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