Thursday, May 2, 2013
How Do You Beat The 49ers Defense?
Let's get this out of the way right from the get go, the 49ers defense has been terrific since Jim Harbaugh became head coach and he hired Vic Fangio as the defensive coordinator. They have consistently ranked among the top 10 defenses in the league. They have been so good, that one needs to wonder if they have any weaknesses.
Some will point to their defensive backfield, some will point to their lack of pass rush due to injuries. It has been an interesting debate and got me thinking, How do you beat the 49ers defense?
There are 3 key things that teams need to possess if they want to beat the 49ers defense, and I will list them in order of importance from my perspective. One key thing, to beat the 49ers you need to have all 3 of these things. Having 1 or 2 of these is not enough.
1) Conviction to stay with the run
The 49ers run defense is well known for being among the best in the league. Opposing coaches know this going in. They know it is going to be tough to move the ball on the ground. Many will try it early on, but once they find the going a little tough will revert to becoming one dimensional and throwing the ball all over the field.
Of the 49ers 37 opponents over the last 2 years only 11 of them have attempted 25+ rushes in a game. In those 11 games the 49ers have a record of 3-7-1. There are 3 teams that seem to have figured this out, the New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens, and St Louis Rams.
In their 3 meetings the past 2 seasons the Giants have attempted 25+ carries in each game, and are 2-1 against the 49ers over that time. Their only loss being the 49ers 27-20 come from behind win during the regular season in 2011.
The Rams ran the ball 37 and 27 times respectively in their two matchups against the 49ers under Jeff Fisher in 2012.
The team that one would think knows the 49ers coaches the best, beyond the obvious Harbaugh brothers, Vic Fangio was also a defensive assistant under John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens have attempted 35 rushes in each of their victories over the 49ers the past two season.
2. A quick slot receiver who runs horizontal routes.
The quick slot receiver gives almost every team fits. The 49ers are no exception, but I have narrowed that down to the quick slot receiver who runs horizontal routes, ie quick outs, quick ins, slants, etc. When you look at the play of Carlos Rogers over the last 2 years you will notice that he does very well against teams who utilize their slot receivers on more vertical types of routes.
Let's take a look at the performance of the slot receivers on teams who have given the 49ers trouble.
Victor Cruz - 22 receptions - 284 yards - 1 TD (2-1 against the 49ers)
Anquan Boldin - 10 receptions - 167 yards
Danny Amendola/Chris Givens - 22 receptions - 194 yards
Percy Harvin - 9 receptions - 89 yards
While these guys aren't killing the 49ers with big down the field plays or touchdowns they are killing them quietly. The underneath completions are extensions of the running game. They keep the clock spinning, move the chains and reduce the number of opportunities for their defense to be defeated by the 49ers offense.
In their 5 losses and 1 tie in 2012, the 49ers defense gave up a total of 130 1st downs. Of those 60% (78) were by way of the pass. The 49ers defense also allowed opponents to convert 40-89 (45%) of their 3rd downs. To put that number in perspective, the worst team in the league in 2012 allowed opponents to convert 44% of their 3rd downs.
3) A QB who is accurate underneath and can move his feet to buy time.
Re watching the losses to the Vikings, and Ravens last season and one thing jumps out at me. The pass rush was their doing a good job of disrupting Christian Ponder and Joe Flacco. Unfortunately for the 49ers their front allowed them to either escape the pocket, or move around within it to buy time to hit the receiver. Eli Manning is very good at this, as is Sam Bradford.
Sam Bradford is another very good example of this. Bradford is not considered to have a big arm, but is thought of as an accurate underneath thrower. In his two meetings with the 49ers defense in 2012 Bradford completed 67.5% of his passes for 507 yards and 2 touchdowns. On the year Bradford completed 59.8% of his passes.
As we go through the season I will breakdown the offense of each 49ers opponent, paying particular attention to how they fit against these 3 keys.