Inside The Playbook
October 29 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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This week as I go inside the 49ers play book, Iíll shift to the defensive side of the ball, and examine the soft or deep zone that the 49ers often run, and are exploited from. The deep zone is used when the 49ers force long passing situations. Defensive backs peel backwards into the secondary leaving soft spots in front of them. The theory is that theyíll let an underneath pass be completed for less than the needed yardage, and then make a tackle. Usually used on third downs, the idea is to bend and not break in order to force the punt.
As the season started out, this zone coverage seemed to be quite effective. The 49ers had the talent to make it work. But as injuries took their toll, and opposing offenses began to figure out the keys to defeating such a scheme, the 49ers have become extremely inefficient on third downs. So much so, that it is not uncommon for teams to convert on more than 70% of their third down opportunities.
The problem with such a defense is two fold. First, with the 49ers current roster, teams are able to complete passes underneath and pick up the first down on YACs. Secondly on third and long situations, the defensive backs either need to back up extremely quickly or start off too far back from the line of scrimmage. The result is that a receiver catches the ball at full speed, while the defensive backs are still back pedaling, or that the receiver gets past the defenses coverage and catches a 15-20 yard pass.
This defense can be fixed. The 49ers need to think of third and ten situations as third and seven situations. No defense should account for a 3rd and 15 situation. They canít afford to give teams a 10 yard cushion and then try and make a stop. Rather the team should give the five yard cushion and make the tackle. Keep men available to pressure the receivers at the line of scrimmage, and to run with them if they try and break through the five yard cushion, and that is how this defense can once again be effective.
The 49ers will be without their entire defense for most of the season. One or more key players in all likelihood will be injured, like Bronson, Winborn and Rasheed are now. By changing the defensive philosophy according to the players on the field, the 49ers can continue to have an affective defense.