Closer look at 49ers’ run defense of ’08

The 49ers were pretty good statistically against the run this season, as they tied for 13th in the league in yards rushing allowed per game. They were eighth in the league in rushing average, surrendering just 3.8 yards per rushing attempt.

We took a look at the run-direction report for the 49ers’ offense a couple days ago. Today, we look for meaning behind the defense’s numbers.

 

The NFL’s official statisticians, Elias Sports Bureau, supplies figures for play direction. Here are those numbers for the 2008 San Francisco 49ers and what we think they mean (feel free chime in with your own theories):

 

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DEFENSE

Left end: 41 plays, 3.54 avg. NFL rank: 3. (NFL best: Colts; worst: Chiefs).

Left tackle: 62 plays, 5.13 avg. NFL rank: 28. (NFL best: Eagles; worst: Lions).

Left guard: 50 plays, 3.98 avg. NFL rank: 18. (NFL best: Ravens; worst: Bengals).

 

Jumping to conclusions: Early in the season, the 49ers did a lot of switching around. But when Greg Manusky had the autonomy to run the defense his way, he scrapped the “hybrid” 3-4 and went mostly with a 3-man front on first and second downs. The left side refers to the offense’s left, so this would be the right side of the 49ers’ defense. The 49ers did a very good job of defending plays around the end. I think this has a lot to do with their corners in run support. Walt Harris and Nate Clements are very good tacklers. It also says something for the athletic ability of the 49ers’ linebackers – most notably Manny Lawson — to get to the sideline to either make a play or turn it back inside. Why did the 49ers struggle on run plays at left tackle? As good as right defensive end Justin Smith is, there are times when he gets such good penetration at the snap of the ball that he takes himself out of the play when it comes his way.

 

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Up middle: 140 plays, 3.29 avg. NFL rank: 6. (NFL best: Vikings; worst: Lions).

 

Jumping to conclusions: My opinion of nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin rose dramatically in the second half of the season. He was active, as he was not responsible for as many two-gap assignments. As a result, he made a lot of plays after what I’d consider a so-so first eight games. There are certainly times as a smallish nose tackle when Franklin is going to get buried by double-team blocks. But the 49ers’ success in defending plays up the middle is a direct reflection on his improved performance. Of course, it also speaks to the sure-tackling of Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes at the inside linebacker positions.

 

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Right guard: 43 plays, 3.51 avg. (NFL rank: 12. (NFL best: Ravens; worst: Jaguars).

Right tackle: 56 plays, 4.23 avg. NFL rank: 16. (NFL best: Cardinals; worst: Giants).

Right end: 43 plays, 4.91 avg. NFL rank: 16. (NFL best: Bears; worst: Bengals).

 

Jumping to conclusions: Isaac Sopoaga and Ray McDonald were generally the defensive linemen on this side. Parys Haralson started the final eight games at left outside linebacker. Certainly, McDonald and Haralson are better in pass-rush situations, so the fact that the club was just average on run plays to this side is completely understandable.

 

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