Over the past two seasons, the 49ers’ defense has not played its best against offenses with good running backs and quick slot receivers. Also, the 49ers’ defense has struggled at times against receiving tight ends, big wide receivers and deep threats.
Let’s go through the 49ers’ 2013 schedule and see which of the 49ers opponents has the personnel to attack the 49ers’ defense where it’s somewhat vulnerable.
Week 1: vs. Green Bay
Running back: Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, James Starks, Randall Cobb
Quick slot receiver: Randall Cobb, Johnathan Franklin
Big receiver: Jordy Nelson
Tight end: Jermichael Finley
Deep threat: Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones
Analysis: The Packers drafted the two best running backs in the draft, so they should have a balanced attack this year. Green Bay likes to line up Nelson at flanker and Jones at split end, but against the 49ers they might switch and put Nelson at split end. That way, he can match up against Tarell Brown, who is five inches shorter than Nelson.
Week 2: @ Seattle
Running back: Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, Christine Michael, Percy Harvin
Quick slot receiver: Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin, Chris Harper
Big receiver: Sidney Rice
Tight end: Zach Miller
Deep threat: Golden Tate, Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin
Analysis: Marshawn Lynch can run on the 49ers’ defense and Percy Harvin will be tough to cover, especially when Russell Wilson is extending plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Week 3 vs. Indianapolis
Running back: Donald Brown, Vick Ballard, T.Y. Hilton
Quick slot receiver: Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton
Big receiver: Darrius Heyward-Bey
Tight end: Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen
Deep threat: T.Y. Hilton
Analysis: The Colts don’t have a great running attack, but it’s respectable. Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton will be tough for the 49ers’ cornerbacks to handle.
Week 4: @ St. Louis
Running back: Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Zac Stacy, Tavon Austin
Quick slot receiver: Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis
Big receiver: Brian Quick
Tight end: Jared Cook
Deep threat: Chris Givens, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin
Analysis: The Rams don’t have a proven power rusher now that Steven Jackson is gone, so they probably will use 11 personnel almost exclusively. The Rams have three quick running backs who could be effective in that formation – Richardson, Pead and Austin. The Rams also have four good slot receivers and three deep threats.
Week 5: vs. Houston
Running back: Arian Foster, Ben Tate
Quick slot receiver: Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins
Big receiver: Andre Johnson
Tight end: Owen Daniels
Deep threat: Andre Johnson
Analysis: The Texans have one of the best running back duos in the NFL. If they set up play action, QB Matt Schaub could move the ball on the 49ers like Matt Ryan did in the first half of the NFC Championship game. The 49ers’ cornerbacks do not matchup well with Johnson and Hopkins.
Week 6: vs. Arizona
Running back: Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor
Quick slot receiver: Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts, Ryan Swope
Big receiver: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd
Tight end: Rob Housler
Deep threat: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd
Analysis: Stepfan Taylor is a tough running back who played like Marshawn Lynch at times in college. If Taylor plays well and the offensive line holds up, the 49ers could have a tough time covering Fitzgerald. Ryan Swope and Andre Roberts are dangerous in the slot, and Michael Floyd beat Chris Culliver for 8 catches, 166 yards and a touchdown in Week 17.
Week 7: @ Tennessee
Running back: Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene
Quick slot receiver: Nate Washington, Kendall Wright
Big receiver: Kenny Britt, Justin Hunter
Tight end: Delanie Walker
Deep threat: Kenny Britt, Justin Hunter, Kendall Wright
Analysis: Chris Johnson is a dangerous running back, but he’s a finesse back, and the 49ers have had more trouble with powerful backs. On the other hand, Washington is a quality slot receiver, and Kenny Britt and Justin Hunter are the type of big deep threats that do well against the 49ers.
Week 8: @ Jacksonville
Running back: Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Forsett, Denard Robinson
Quick slot receiver: Cecil Shorts, Ace Sanders, Denard Robinson, Justin Blackmon
Big receiver: Justin Blackmon
Tight end: Marcedes Lewis
Deep threat: None
Analysis: Jones-Drew still is an elite rusher, and Ace Sanders and Denard Robinson have the talent to become excellent slot receivers. Justin Blackmon also is a good possession receiver who can line up in the slot and convert third downs.
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: vs. Carolina
Running back: Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, Kenjon Barner
Quick slot receiver: Brandon LaFell
Big receiver: Brandon LaFell, Kenjon Barner
Tight end: Greg Olsen
Deep threat: Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon
Analysis: The Panthers had the ninth-best rushing attack last season, and it should improve this season as Cam Newton gets more experienced running the Pistol. The addition of Barner won’t hurt, either. Hixon dominated Chris Culliver the last time they faced each other – Week 6 last season.
Week 11: @ New Orleans
Running back: Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles
Quick slot receiver: Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Darren Sproles
Big receiver: Marques Colston
Tight end: Jimmy Graham
Deep threat: Kenny Stills
Analysis: The 49ers have handled the Saints’ runners well in the past. Graham and Sproles always are dangerous, especially when Sean Payton is drawing up and calling plays for them. Kenny Stills could be the most talented deep threat the Saints have had in the Drew-Brees era.
Week 12: @ Washington
Running back: Alfred Morris, Evan Royster, Roy Helu
Quick slot receiver: Santana Moss, Pierre Garcon
Big receiver: Leonard Hankerson
Tight end: Fred Davis, Logan Paulsen, Jordan Reed
Deep threat: Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson
Analysis: The Redskins had the best rushing attack in the NFL last season. It was very difficult to make the Redskins’ offense one-dimensional. They used play action better than most offenses.
Week 13: vs. St. Louis (see Week 4)
Week 14: vs. Seattle (see Week 2)
Week 15: @ Tampa Bay
Running back: Doug Martin, Mike James
Quick slot receiver: Mike Williams, Tiquan Underwood
Big receiver: Vincent Jackson
Tight end: None
Deep threat: Vincent Jackson
Analysis: Doug Martin became one of the best running backs in the NFL as a rookie last season. Split end Vincent Jackson is 6-5, 241 pounds and he averaged 19.2 yards per catch last season. Tarell Brown is seven inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than Jackson.
Week 16: vs. Atlanta
Running back: Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers
Quick slot receiver: Roddy White, Harry Douglas
Big receiver: Julio Jones
Tight end: Tony Gonzalez
Deep threat: Julio Jones
Analysis: No running back gives the 49ers’ defense more trouble than Jackson, and no receiver gives Tarell Brown more problems than Jones.
Week 17: @ Arizona (see Week 6)
The 49ers’ offense could outscore all of their opponents this season. That’s a possibility. But how many of the 49ers’ opponents can score more than 20 points against the 49ers’ defense?