If you were the offensive coordinator for another NFL team, how would you try to attack the 49ers defense next season?
There may not be a good way to attack them – they’re the best defense in football – but I came up with a list of do’s and don’ts. Tell me if you agree or if there’s something you’d add.
- Do not attempt to establish the run first because it won’t work. You have to come out passing.
- Pass from your base formation – two wide receivers, two running backs and a tight end (or one running back and two tight ends). Do not line up with three or more wide receivers and invite the Niners top-notch nickel defense onto the field unless you have a great offensive line. You have to double team Justin Smith, and even that might not be enough to contain him. You may have to double team Aldon Smith, too. You may have to line up your tight end on the left side of the formation to help your left tackle block him. Even if you do all that and it works, your right guard and tackle have to block Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks one-on-one, which is tough because McDonald can dominate most right guards, and when he does you have to double team him, and then Brooks sacks your quarterback. But if you can block those four, you’d still be best off with a quarterback who can run because NaVorro Bowman will blitz when you least expect it. Basically, avoid their nickel defense.
- You want to pass against their base 3-4 defense, which is built to stop the run. Don’t spread out the Niners D with three or more wide receivers. Don’t invite their sub-package stars, Aldon Smith and Chris Culliver, onto the field. They make the Niners pass rush and pass coverage better. You want to call pass plays when their run-stuffers, Parys Haralson and Isaac Sopoaga, are on the field.
- If you want to throw deep, do it on play-action because the aggressive free safety Dashon Goldson may bite. If he doesn’t, don’t test his side of the field (unless you’re the Cardinals and you’re throwing it up to Larry Fitzgerald), because Goldson and Brown are faster than Rogers and Whitner, the Niner DBs on the other side of the field.
- If you want to throw short, try a quick slant to a wide receiver because Rogers and Brown don’t press very much. Don’t throw screens or check downs to your running backs because the Niners inside linebackers –NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis – will probably tackle them immediately.
- Pass to your tight end(s) until the Niners prove they can defend the position. When a tight end runs down the middle of the field, either Willis covers him one-on-one or Whitner helps him over the top. Neither guy is tall – Willis is 6-1 and Whitner is 5-10 – so a tall tight end like Jason Witten or Rob Gronkowski gives them problems. If the quarterback throws it high enough, neither Willis or Whitner can contest the pass.
- You need an accurate quarterback and an excellent tight end to pull this off. If you don’t have that combination, you can still attack the Niners with average tight ends, and the wheel route is a good way to do it.
- When the Niners offense needed a big play last season, Greg Roman loved to call the wheel route, usually for No. 2 TE Delanie Walker or FB Bruce Miller. The idea was to get them matched up one-on-one with a slower outside linebacker down the sideline. The result was usually a long touchdown.
- The Niners base defense is vulnerable to this play because Parys Haralson and Ahmad Brooks aren’t very good in coverage. If I were facing the Niners this season, I’d attack those two players. If I burned them enough times, Vic Fangio would be forced to run nothing but Nickel formations.
- Then I’d try to run the ball.