Yesterday I was asked, "How can the 49ers be ranked so high in pass defense and still be so low in sacks?" That is a very interesting question. The 49ers enter week 8 with the number 1 ranked pass defense at 173.4 yards per game, yet only rank 24th in sacks with 11. Looking into the numbers even further, they also rank 3rd in the NFL in passes of 20+ yards given up (13), and 4th in opponent passer rating (73.6). In watching the film the stellar performance of the pass defense can be summed up in these three phases, Coverage, Tackling and Pressure. Let's take a closer look at each of these.
- Great job in coverage across the board with the CB's and Safeties using double coverage to take away the outside threats, and Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman shut down the underneath routes. Result of the play is an incompletion (white).
- On this play the 49ers are playing man underneath with 2 safeties high. As you can see they are all covered well. In this snapshot Sanchez is beginning to deliver the ball to the receiver in the red circle. Notice how at this point the safety is beginning to break on the route.
- The Safety arrives almost simultaneously with the ball. The receiver is able to hold on, but the force of the hit drives him back 3 yards where the other defenders are able to make the tackle and hold the receiver to a 4 yard gain.
The 49ers are one of the most fundamentally sound tackling teams in the NFL and do an excellent job of taking the ball carrier down quickly to minimize the damage. A big part of why the 49ers are 4th in the NFL by allowing only 13 pass plays of over 20 yards is their ability to minimize yards after completion (YAC).
- This is a perfect example of sound team defense. On this play Sanchez completes the slant route to the receiver (white). Notice the triangle of defenders surrounding him, this is perfect team defense. Although they gave up the completion they allow no room to escape and take him down almost immediately.
- Another example of swarming to the ball and creating that "Bermuda Triangle" for the receiver. Notice the CB (black) has maintained outside leverage giving Holmes the option to either run it out of bounds or back inside to the waiting LB's in pursuit. He wisely takes it out of bounds for a 6 yard completion.
- The above sequence from the Giants game is another example of good coverage and good tackling. Culliver has good coverage on his man (black) but Manning does a great job of putting it in a position that only his receiver can get to it. The result of the play is a 16 yard completion, but Culliver played this about as good as a CB can. His coverage also limits the damage and allows the defense to fight another down.
Even the best defensive backs will tell you that their best friend is a good pass rush. Although the 49ers currently rank only 24th in sacks their pass rush has done a good job of disrupting opposing QB's.
- This sequence does a good job of showing the combination of Pass Rush and Coverage in action. As you can see the 49ers have brought pressure with both of their slot DB's. The Safeties are then responsible to pick up their men. Although the blitz does not get home, it forces Sanchez to deliver the ball early to his slot receiver, (top at 15 yard line) who is well covered by the Safety. The result of the play is an incompletion.
- Here is another good combination of pass rush and coverage. As you can see the pass rush has collapsed the pocket on Sanchez. The coverage provides no open receivers as well, yet he still tries to deliver the ball to his TE (black) who is well covered by Patrick Willis. Willis breaks up the pass and narrowly misses the interception.
- And finally, this play shows all 3, good pass rush, good coverage, and good tackling. On this play a good pass rush on Eli Manning and coverage forces him to go underneath to his FB who is tackled immediately to bring up a 3rd and short which they would not convert.
So is the 49er pass defense really that good? You tell me.