Now that we’re halfway through the season, there’s a book on how to beat the 49ers. We know it, the 49ers know it – it’s their job to know it — and the rest of the NFL knows it.
Let’s explain that game plan and list the teams that can pull it off.
- Stop the run with seven defenders. If you can do that, you can beat the 49ers. You have to have a two-gap linebacker or a two-gap defensive lineman – a stud who can defend two gaps, because there are eight gaps at the line of scrimmage and just seven defenders. The 49ers defense can stop the run with seven defenders because Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are all two-gap players.
- If you can’t stop Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter with seven defenders, you’re going to have a much tougher time against the 49ers offense. You have to pick the right downs to bring your strong safety into the box to defend the eighth gap, and you also have to disguise it, because Alex Smith is smart and tends to audible to a pass play when he sees a safety creeping into the box before the snap.
- If your cornerbacks can cover Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss 1-on-1, you can get away with playing eight defenders in the box.
- On the other side of the ball, you must play down-and-distance offense. That means no sacks, no penalties and you must gain at least four yards per play on every play. If you can run the ball, that’s great. If you can’t, you can still target Carlos Rogers, Donte Whitner and Perrish Cox in the passing game. They’re giving up a lot of short catches this year. Vic Fangio believes offenses eventually make the mistake that ends their own drive. You can’t make any mistakes. You have to complete the short passes over and over again. The Vikings pulled this off Week 3 when they drove more than 80 yards three times.
I don’t think the Rams can pull this off. They don’t have a two-gap defender on defense, and they don’t have the discipline on offense to slowly and consistently move the ball.
On the other hand, the Bears have the talent to pull off this game plan. The 49ers play the Bears in two weeks.