Robert Saleh’s defensive creativity paying dividends for 49ers

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh at the team’s NFL football training camp in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, July 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SANTA CLARA — Three hours before every 49ers game, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh runs the stadium stairs. He runs up and down, up and down the concrete steps and around the entire field. And as he goes, he takes a leap of faith into the absurd and unknown.

“I visualize the entire game,” Saleh said. “I visualize every call I’m going to make. I visualize the calls the other team will make. I try to visualize my adjustments and their adjustments. This calms me and keeps me sane.”

Saleh sees what isn’t there. He is a knight of faith, as Soren Kierkegaard would say.

“There are two types of people in the world,” Saleh explained. “There are those who need to see something happen before they actually believe it can happen. And then there are those who live in faith, and those are the ones who see things happen before they ever have a chance to happen. And those are the people who, in my opinion, have a greater chance of maximizing who they are, because there’s no cap to what they’re capable of.”

So far this season, things have worked out exactly how Saleh envisioned. The 49ers are 8-0 and his defense has allowed a microscopic 12.8 points per game. Quite a turnaround from 2018, when the 49ers went 4-12 and Saleh’s defense gave up a whopping 27.2 points per game.

No one could have foreseen such a drastic turnaround for the defense. His faith has been rewarded.

Saleh has made his vision come true, and he has become someone many consider the NFL’s best defensive coordinator by staying true to his principles.

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This article has 50 Comments

  1. I used to run the stairs with weights in my alice pack, but the doctor said to knock it off because it wasn’t doing my knees any favors. Visualization has been used by players, so why not coaches? I like this Saleh, but I’m not a big fan of dropping my qb hunters into coverage. I’m visualizing a better performance from his unit Nov. 11th….

  2. When you decide to write…

    Remembering the hire, most people didn’t like the hire mostly due to his lack of experience. Lack of experience was the one of the things that I found to like. Another was, Saleh is a competitive chess player. Razor and I talked about this and both thought it was an intriguing hire.

    “I visualize the entire game,” Saleh said. “I visualize every call I’m going to make. I visualize the calls the other team will make. I try to visualize my adjustments and their adjustments. This calms me and keeps me sane.”

    That is an analytical mind at work, the same type of mind set you would expect from someone who played competitive chess. The hire was really intriguing as I have never heard of a professional coach ever play cometitive chess. Both football and competitive chess takes an enormous amount of time to learn…congrats Saleh.

    Even though I liked the hire I think the jury is still out…I really like this guy.

  3. I think Saleh has benefited from having Joe Woods as DB coach, since he used to be a DC.
    Kocurek has also been a big help, but he also got Ford and Bosa as defensive weapons. That has helped the defense immensely.
    Losing Kwon may not be a disaster, because I saw Kwon struggling against the run. Maybe Greenlaw will be a better run defender.
    I hope Saleh comes out with a different alignment to start the game. The Rams, Panthers and Cards seem to know what is coming, so they have been very effective, until Saleh makes adjustments.
    Saleh dials up exotic blitzes? That is music to my ears. I hope to see some safety blitzes, because they are fast enough to corral the smurf.

    1. Oh catfish, my catfish. Where art thou?
      For dost thou spend thy evenings dancing upon the pol of Sebastian?
      Whilst I agonize upon the chancing gaze of thy sour Christine?

      1. Please be aware that the blue catfish is not me. I have changed my avatar so my fans can distinguish me from the fake and the catfish.
        The fires gave me a moment of introspection and even though Grant and I have sworn allegiance to each other, I am not a victim. I no longer want to be your online Mephistopheles or your punching bag.
        Yes you can just scroll past my posts, but I can not ignore yours when it is about me. I was picked on from a very young age due to my slight stature and am used to fighting back.
        I will cease and desist, no longer resist.
        I’d like to invite you all to my house here in Sebastopol have a potluck meet and greet to celebrate the awaking of my favorite team!
        GO NINERS!!!

          1. Funny as it may sound, but Grant has bailed me out several times by removing some posters after pointing out the abuse coming my way. I in turn have refrained from any criticism towards his insights and provide a nice cashflow for him for all the additional clicks on his blog
            I prefer to refer to his intel!
            GO NINERS!!!

            1. I wish to present you with a short poem to help you distinguish me from my catfish.
              It’s a simple yet effective way to know when the real cowboy Ogasawara speaks.
              Ahem, here goes:

              My catfish keeps me blue in the face, while my wife keeps me blue in the balls.

              1. Sittin’ here, eatin’ my heart out waitin’
                Waitin’ for some catfish to troll
                Wrote about a thousand postings lately
                Almost wore my fingers to the bone
                Lookin’ for some catfish, baby this evenin’
                I need some catfish, baby tonight
                I want some catfish, baby this evenin’
                Gotta have some catfish
                Gotta have some troll tonight

    1. I give crap when crap is deserved and I praise when praise is deserved.

      This was a good read. I’d like more of these articles from you.

  4. Saleh has been impressive. He needed talent to show case his expertise. It also helps to have most of your starters healthy.

    This is a good article about Saleh. It appears that he and Lynch knew what they were doing building from the DL and LB’s first. They changed the NFL mold from selling out on the secondary.

    I was wrong about this squad and coaches. I thought they needed another season to have a winning record. The turn around is very impressive.

  5. HaHaHa… Texans just ran the Deebo Samuel Trap play against the Jags. Exact same play with the exact same motion and fake fly sweep. Except Hopkins didn’t score on it. Texans didn’t block it as well as the 49ers. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

  6. The Defensive system you ascribe to Pete Carroll was in use in SF when he arrived as the 49ers’ DC in ’95. Credit Bill McPherson and John Marshall for it, not Pete.

    1. Pete’s system is his at this, he has morphed it considerably.
      It’s like saying Bill Walsh ran Correyell’s system, Or Kyle Shanahan runs Bill Walsh’s system. Some elements are the same but they have been radically changed at this point.

  7. This just in, better players makes the coaches look better, big difference in player personal than last year, look at Steve Kerr, 1-5, team lost its best players and now they suck for now.

        1. I think we can match up really well with both Lockett and Metcalf. Where the Seahawks won’t matchup is their OLine vs. our Mt. Rushmore. Alls we gotta do is play our game. Get a lead, and unleash the beasts….

          1. I don’t trust E man against either guy and Spoon coming off injury isn’t any better.
            The pass rush has been really good but at the end of the day, you have to bring Rusty to the ground and that’s hard to do.

            1. E-Man made one bad play, but up until then he’s been stellar. Rusty’s not hard to bring down once you catch him. That’s what Ford and Bosa are for….

            1. I stealth edited from “team” to “offense”. We had trouble with Murray, Jackson’s going to be a handful and a half.

  8. Grant, good article with background information I haven’t seen any where else.
    Have you found a new crystal ball to replace the broken one you use for preseason?

    Side note: Packers Chargers game, when Wet in Rogers comes to the side line the Pack h ave 2 guys hold a sunshade over Rogers. Take about a …..

    1. Dang, sure wish I could rid the blog of these catfishes.
      The Niners are the only undefeated team in the league and my friends are having to sort through this noise.
      GO NINERS!!!

  9. This game will be very interesting. I fully expect Seattle to put up points against us. Russell is much better more polished version of Kyler Murray.
    In this game , the offense needs to step up big and the D needs to get off the field on 3rd and long situations. These always true but especially so this week.

    1. Last year Niners were hyped, then lost their QB. Season over. This year, Browns were hyped, and still have their QB. Season over. lol

      1. Ribico, it was a bummer to lose JG last year but our defense really needed some upgrades at LB and edge to be where they are today. We could have been better last year with JG. Thankful for a good season so far.

  10. I wouldn’t be shocked if we started seeing Saleh running more traditional 4-3 sets as opposed to the wide 9. Our D has been torn up on the ground by the Rams, first drive. The Panthers, first drive and the Cards, the whole game. I believe Saleh needs to start mixing it up and they can easily shift out of the wide 9 pre snap. It would take some of the pressure off of Greenlaw.

    1. I don’t have the numbers, but I don’t think the Niners have used much wide 9 on base downs based on my eye test. But yes, I think Saleh will tweak his scheme to close down run lanes more effectively.

      1. Mood,
        I believe he has to start rushing the passer from a standard 4-3 even on passing downs like 2nd and 10 or 3rd and 7 or 8. I’m also concerned with their pass coverage of traditional screens along with WR screens lately they seem to work for 7-12 yards every time.

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