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Shifting Defense
November 7 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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Against the Raiders, the 49ers tried two things that were quite difference from their traditional defense. Both techniques that the 49ers implored were very effective at shutting down a potent Raiders attack. The two shifts involved using the linebackers and defensive backs differently.

At linebacker, the 49ers changed Julian Petersonís responsibility from being an edge pass rusher in nickel situations to an inside coverage guy. Peterson thus became responsible for stopping the shallow crossing routes by the Raiders receivers. While Peterson was subject to a Raiders touchdown pass to Jerry Porter, the change helped the 49ers particularly in third down defense. Suddenly players were tackled immediately after catching the ball, rather than after picking up the first down. Peterson was also successful in disrupting some of the timing of the short patterns, forcing Gannon to make mistakes or throw the ball away.

The idea stems from Bill Parcellsí defense in the Giants and Bills Super Bowl. He let his linebackers take advantage of the middle of the field, where much smaller players roamed. Using this strategy the 49ers defense was much more effective.

The 49ers also increased the amount of time they spent in man-to-man coverage. By locking their cornerbacks in man coverage the team was also more effective on third down, forcing Gannon to make tough throws. It also allowed the team more freedom in rushing the passer and using the linebackers to control the middle of the field. This is a strategy that many fans, including myself have been asking for, for quite some time, based on the 49ers soft zones - particularly on third downs.

The 49ers defense stepped up its play in this game, by going against the grain with their defensive strategy. It paid off for them. While itís uncertain why strategies they will implore against the Chiefs, the team canít be afraid to shift between strategies on defense throughout the course of a game. That way, they can use both their traditional defense, and new schemes to help dictate the flow of the game.

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