The reason the 49ers will use a Wide 9 defense in 2019

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead stands on the field at the team’s NFL football headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., Tuesday, June 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The 49ers have revamped their entire defense by moving one player two yards toward the sideline.

The 49ers will use a “Wide 9” defensive alignment most of the time next season. “Wide 9” simply refers to the strong-side defensive end. He lines up outside the tight end, as opposed to slightly inside the tight end, which is where he usually lined up the past two seasons for the 49ers.

This change looks minor — you may not even notice it when you watch the 49ers on television. But in terms of football philosophy, the change is drastic, the difference between Plato and Aristotle.

The Wide 9 defensive end is a “containment” player, meaning he forces the ball carrier to cut back into the middle of the defense. The Wide 9 alignment is strong against teams that run outside the tackles, but not as strong against teams that run up the gut. Every alignment has its strengths and weaknesses. This is the most profound truth of football.

The 49ers defense was designed to stop runs up the gut the past two seasons. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh packed his defensive linemen close together, plugged the middle of the field and tried to force ball carriers to run outside the tackles where the defense neutralized them. This philosophy was successful — the 49ers defense gave up the seventh-fewest yards per carry in the NFL each of the past two seasons.

So why did the 49ers change their defense?

Click here to find out why.

This article has 110 Comments

  1. The only thing that bothers me about the switch to the wide 9 is that it makes the Bosa selection a bit more suspect. He is excellent good when lined up near the OT due to his hand fighting. By lining him further outside they are not taking advantage of his biggest strengths.
    Is this a continued trend of drafting a player only to ask them to do things that do not play to their strengths?

      1. Mako,
        I agree for the most part… however from what I have seen for the most part, in balanced formations both ends split wide. Additionally, teams can change the strong vs weak side simply by using motion, so I expect him to get plenty of reps in a wide stance.

    1. Dee Ford will be the guy lined up in the “Wide” spot, Bosa will man the other side which is PERFECT for him. Our d line is truly the most complete it’s been since Justin was here.

    2. Despite the name “Wide 9” The ends do not always line up at the 9 technique. Bosa will likely often line up at the 6 or 7 technique (tight over the outside shoulder of the TE). He has to set the edge by controlling the TE and penetrating when necessary.

      1. Robert Saleh on 5/29: “You still have a three technique, you still have a shade, you still have a five, it’s just do you play a six or a nine? That’s all we’re talking about.”

  2. I like the idea of adding another club to the defensive bag, and the wide 9 iron should do nicely. The Bosa Constrictor’s short area quickness is a match made in heaven for the Wide 9. I do not see any disadvantage for Bosa, but I could see how some will feel sorry for the offensive lineman who will be at a distinct disadvantage when they attempt to come out and engage him….

    1. Raz

      Correct me if I’m wrong…but I don’t believe that Bosa has even signed a contract yet…? He should have plenty of time to think about it as long as he’s not going through regular practice with his ‘team mates’……And I don’t want to hear “It’s a family thing..”….

            1. I don’t see that happening. I believe he signs late in the process just before training camp begins. You gotta remember, CAA will be operating somewhat from a position of weakness, in that Nick is coming off injury after missing time. Getting injured again in OTA’s further erodes CAA’s inclination to play hardball. Paraag will use that to bring them to the table, and get some concessions….

  3. Aristotle was a student of Plato’s and was very influenced by him. Not a great example of a drastic difference. Maybe you ought to go with Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.

    1. Platonic ideals vs. Aristotelian Logic. Inductive vs. deductive reasoning. Burr and Hamilton weren’t philosophers.

        1. Sun Tzu advocated being flexible, adaptable, fungible unpredictable and changeable.
          It should be only a different tactic, with many strategies available, as an adjustment to what the offense is presenting. If they are doing power runs up the middle, they should switch to a different tactic.
          The Wide 9 may help counter the jet sweeps, and force the offense to run inside, which will help the defense shape their opponent.

        1. Nice imagery.

          Right up there with Icarus attempting to fly higher and higher–nearing the sun. Alas, the fate of one of our legendary posters, propelled ever upwards by delusions of grandeur.

          1. Hey, someone has to take responsibility. And not end up in the coach churn as, for example, the next Tampa Bay DC

      1. Burr and Hamilton weren’t philosophers.

        I think nearly all the Age of Enlightenment founding fathers were to some extent.

        1. Hamilton wrote treatises on Government, the Federalists papers (in part) which were political philosophy at least, Burr on the other hand was a political machinator and fell afoul of the Jefferson administration for his dealings with western lands. Not sure that Burr would fall as one of the founders, but I suppose it’s arguable since he fought in the continental army and was well connected.

          I did see that Plato and Aristotle were mentioned and while Aristotle was a pupil of Plato’s he diverged on what was the median way. Plato sought the ideal.

    2. Gota laugh at your alluding to huge difference between Plato and Aristotle. Their key contribution to society was to get people to understand and think in a nuanced manner instead instead of black and white.

      1. Aristotle believed sensory perception brings you closer to the truth. Plato believed sensory perception takes you further away from the truth.

        1. And then we have Mencius (Meng Ke)…

          “One of Mencius’s most influential views was his list of four innate ethical dispositions, which he treats as what Western ethicists would call cardinal virtues: benevolence (rén), righteousness (yì), wisdom (zhì), and propriety (lĭ). Each of the four virtues is associated with a characteristic emotion or motivational attitude: “The feeling of compassion is benevolence. The feeling of disdain is righteousness. The feeling of respect is propriety. The feeling of approval and disapproval is wisdom” (Mengzi 6A6; Van Norden 2008, 149). Among these four, Mencius devotes the most discussion to benevolence and righteousness. Benevolence is manifested in the affection one has for his or her own kin, as well as compassion for the suffering of other humans, and even concern for non–human animals. However, according to Confucians, one should always have greater concern for, and has greater obligations toward, relatives, teachers, and friends than one does for strangers and animals (7A45). Benevolence is not simply a matter of feeling a certain way: it also has cognitive and behavioral aspects. A fully benevolent person will be disposed to recognize the suffering of others and to act appropriately. Thus, a genuinely benevolent ruler will notice how his policies will affect his subjects, and will only pursue policies consistent with their well being (1B5). Righteousness is a disposition to disdain or regard as shameful dishonorable behavior or demeaning treatment. As is the case with benevolence, righteousness has cognitive and behavioral aspects. Thus, a righteous person would object to being addressed disrespectfully (7B31), and would not engage in an illicit …… relationship (3B3). A fully righteous person would also recognize that it is just as shameful to accept a large bribe as it is to accept a small bribe (6A10), and so would refuse to accept either.”


        2. Aristotle would watch Football in person or at least on a high definition TV.

          Plato would have watched football as shadows on a cave (my black and white TV with rabbit ear antennas in my room as a kid wasn’t much better).

        3. Not quite. Aristotle certainly believed that perception was important in the question of truth, but Plato laid out a philosophy that sought higher truth. There were levels of understanding for him.

  4. I’m not a fan of the wide 9 I don’t think it will be as effective for us if we can’t cover down the field. But we have to wait and see. But either way I’m excited for 49ers football regardless

  5. Wide 9 is getting way too much coverage. It’s not like Saleh is reinventing the 46 defense. Good coaches always play to their teams strengths. Teams are so different from Game 1 to Game 16, it’s impossible to predict how the Wide 9 will be used or if it will be scrapped during the year. I would be more interested in hearing about the dynamic between Saleh and Kocurek. It almost seems as if Saleh is turning over the strategic reins to Kocurek. If that’s an accurate assessment then why do the 49ers need Robert Saleh?

    1. I am just glad they have moved on from Zgonina and Hafley.
      Kocurek may yell a lot in the practices, but I hope he is cool, calm and collected during the games.
      Woods may help Saleh out the most.

        1. More Baalke stench. Calling the Niner players- minions, is just how Baalke would be disrespecting his players as pieces of meat.
          Cassie really must hate the Niners.

  6. Shoup, Bosa will not be the player doing this. Dee Ford will be the guy lined up outside. OREGONINER, could you sound anymore like a whiney little brat? Lots of rookies haven’t signed their deals yet. Don’t be so sensitive!! Thank you for the read Grant, I like your writing. It’s nice reading an article from a guy who had been in the NFL before. Thank you and good morning!

    1. Because Joey held out with the Chargers, the Nick Bosa detractors keep trying to manufacture the same crisis. They will not stop until he signs, and then move on to the injuries, bad fit, yada, yada, yada; until he starts putting qb’s on their backs behind enemy lines….

        1. Yet only 2 of the top 6 have signed. Raiders pick (#4) just signed 2 days ago. Before that it would have been 1 out of 6. Just saying.

          1. If Nick was concerned about shedding the reputation of Joey then he may be more inclined to agree to a deal earlier. It’s really not a big deal but there is plenty of good reason for the Bosa family reputation.

            1. Actually it’s the reputation of CAA. McGlinchey signed late in the process, and Thomas signed 2 Minutes after Midnight. I don’t fault CAA because as an agent, you don’t want to be perceived as weak. You want a bulldog reputation, but when it goes off the rails as it did in Joey’s case, you sack CAA’s agent handling your case and hire one of their other ones to get the deal done….

      1. Razor,
        I’m not bitching about Bosa’s selection, I thought he was the best player.

        I’m worried the niners have selected a player only to play him at a role he is not a fit for. That is a somewhat consistent theme with this team.

    2. Victor

      A whiney little brat…I don’t recall your title up here until today…where the hell did you come from ? SENSITIVE ? Perhaps you should study Bosa’s family history to find out why there is concern…You sound awfully cocksure of yourself….THAT position is already taken…Seb’s here….

  7. One thing not mentioned about the switch to the base Wide 9 is that I think it provides greater continuity with the Nickel package (which is pretty much the base package anyway). With the Under front you had a big end who’s primary job really wasn’t to rush the passer (but it would be nice if he did) and a NT…who’s job again was primarily to secure the run in the middle…not to rush the passer (again…it’d be nice if he could do that also). The SAM was was sort of this containment END (he had the D gap and containment) but also had to drop into coverage. It’d be nice if he could also rush the passer as a Nickel rusher…but the Niners were never able to get a SAM that could do that.

    If you’re facing a team that may run from a 11 personnel group then if you’re running an Under base scheme….you need to figure out if you want to run your base package or your nickel package. Then you have to consider weather or not you need your base big end, NT…etc…. Often times the way the positions are played against the run in the base are different than how the run is defended in the Nickel package.

    But if you’re running a Wide 9 base scheme. Then the Ends are doing the same thing in base or Nickel. Containing the edge and rushing up field. The interior defensive line positions are played mostly the same. The linebackers are played mostly the same way. Base or’re just subbing the over hang (apex) linebacker for a defensive back. That defensive back will have mostly the same responsibilities as that linebacker.

    So I think the continuity of the scheme across both personnel packages will likely provide greater understanding and execution of their roles by the players as well as greater scheme flexibility to meet many offensive personnel and scheme situations.

      1. Yes, but it’s not played the same as it is in the Under

        The Big End does not have containment duties in the Under. He’s a fill and spill player in the Under. He fills the C Gap on plays to him and squeezes his gap on plays away from him. In the Under the Force/ SAM usually has containment duties. In the Wide 9 (even if he’s lined up at a 7 or 6 technique….I mentioned this earlier in a post above.) he still has containment duties…the End…big or not…has the same duties in the “base” or nickel package.

        The run fits for the Under and Wide 9 are different. The Wide 9 funnels ball carriers to the middle into the linebackers and safeties (a possible problem IMO) like the 3-4. The Under creates a gapped controlled wall in the middle and pushes ball carriers outside. The benefit of the Wide 9 in base is now run fits are the same in base or the nickel package.

        1. I like that byproduct of simplicity in the Wide 9, but I wonder what percentage we’ll utilize it on 1st and 10.

          1. I hope you’re right. That’s a rather definitive statement. (did you see them practice the Under front?) It would make sense. With 2 back sets or 2 TEs the offense gains a gap which stretches the front seven gap defenders even thinner.

            But it sort of wrecks the whole continuity thing I was going for. But at least going against outside running teams and the nickel…the base scheme will be more continuous. But you can still run inside iso zone plays from an 11 personnel group (Seattle for example).

            1. Yes, I saw them practice the under front against two-back sets. The 49ers never used a 9-technique against two-back sets last season. Sometimes the 49ers used a 9-tech against 12 personnel, and I imagine that will increase in 2019.

  8. In a Barrows article last March Wide 9 pioneer back Jim Washburn said Kris Kocurek had other options besides but he liked the 49ers defensive line personnel.

    Washburn – “I know Kris said they’ve got the guys to play it,” he said of a Wide 9 defensive front. “Even Ronald Blair is strong. He comes flying off the edge. … See, you’re running off the ball, you’re keying the ball and not the man, so how would you like to see Blair or Armstead running right through the outside shoulder of the tight end? How would you like to be a tight end and (try to) turn out on him?”

    (Credit Matt Barrows of The Athletic. Well worth the subscription price. )

    1. I’m guessing the success of the wide 9 hinges on how second level defenders adjust.

      I’m hearing (not sure) we are going away from cover 3. Wholesale scheme changes make me a little nervous given what’s already been invested in cover 3 type players (tall corners, fast chase linebackers, big SS, fast FS).

      But two INTs in a season is dreadful, so I get the temptation for big changes.

      It will be fun seeing how it all shakes out.

  9. Instead of just the Wide 9 as a staple, the Niners should employ effective aspects of the George Seiffert styled defense, the Pete Carroll styled defense, the Vic Fangio styled defense, the Bill Belichick styled defense, with Earnhart Perkins/ Tampa 2 concepts at times. They should be able to morph from 4-3 to 3-4 smoothly and quickly.
    Like Razor says, the Wide 9 is a good option to get after the QB, but should be only one tool on the toolbelt.
    I hope the Niner defense is unpredictable, and can disguise their coverages, so they can confuse the offense.
    Bend , but do not break, should be an overall goal, with an emphasis on sacks and turnovers.
    Thankfully, the pass rush has improved. My biggest question is about the health of the defensive backfield.

    1. George Seiffert devised a defense to counter the WCO. He was the catalyst for subsequent defenses, because he had to strategize to stop a genius. Pete Carroll built a defense that is aggressive, and his- bend but do not break philosophy helped win a SB. PC said he had 3-4 players playing in a 4-3 system. Fangio once had a defense that was so stout, they did not give up a 100 yards rusher or a rushing TD for 16 weeks. He built the Bear defense that almost went all the way, and was rewarded with a HC job with Von Miller. Belichick had prepared his defense so well, they almost never looked unprepared or surprised. This last SB, he held the Rams to 3 points. he prepared his defense so well, the outcome was predetermined.
      This is a copycat league, so the Niners should learn from the best. Saleh should not be rigid and inflexible. he should be versatile, ever changing and unpredictable. He should get his defense to be well prepared, focused and disciplined. Wide 9 should not be his only arrow in his quiver.

  10. Sorry to change the subject but you have too read 49er Webzone article on the York family as being one of the best NFL ownerships. !

  11. Consequences of having a moron has a president.

    Iran shoots down USA drone –

    “I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth. I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it,” the president said, describing the assault as “a new wrinkle” and “a new fly in the ointment.”

    Sounds like an excuse not to fight…….

    The truth is we have no allies to fight with us because of the idiot in the white house. ……

    At least Obama had a red line – this orange thing does not even have a clue….

    1. I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it

      It could have been a 400 pound guy sitting on his bed, right?

      He has to disparage his intelligence agencies because otherwise, you know, that Trump and Rusher thing.

      1. George, they occasionally discuss sports on Wonkette too.

        Considering the world we are in where everything ha political overtones, I’d say a 99.9 to .1 sports to politics ratio is pretty damned good

        1. Rib, unfortunately it’s true that everything has political overtones. Used to be that sports wasn’t one of them. It was a refuge and I liked that. You know, there’s some guy on here who, while he does have interesting comments from time to time, also posts what I think of as “stream of consciousness.” Whatever comes to his mind, he writes it up and hits the send key, as if we’re sitting by the screen waiting for his every word. And you and me and everyone else are stuck with that. But what’s worse, in my opinion, is guys coming here to spout off about their politics. Most of us don’t care a whit and wish these guys would just shut up. I hope I’m making sense to those people and that they go somewhere else for that.

          1. George
            Don’t you think it would’ve been the same back in the days before the internet, if they’d had the internet? The politics part? Viet War, Goldwater, LBJ, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Hostages, Billy Carter 🤪, yada yada. Make it easy and anonymous to vent, and away we go! Can you imagine Jane Fonda’s twitter account? 🤭
            The mental diarrhea thing here is what is, as you say.

            1. Red, this is a very good question, and I do love your statement — Make it easy and anonymous to vent, and away we go! This is so true. We all get stressed and sometimes just have to vent. But if it’s you doing the venting, you have to ask yourself, who really cares? Everyone else has their problems. And that makes the world a callous place.

  12. I think the main reason for the switch to wide 9 is more about freeing up the edge rushers on pass plays, but it does also play well against outside runs. So long as they don’t become easy to run against up the middle the switch should work out fine and it should help the pass rush.

    1. The 49ers want to be better suited to stop one-back sets, run or pass. The 49ers gave up just 3.4 yards per carry to RBs last season when using a Wide 9 DE.

      1. Do you think that is the main reasoning behind it? I think it is part of it, but I think the main thing they determined after the season (in fact during last season) was a need to get better at pass rushing from the edge. A lot of their moves this offseason have been about addressing that, including imo hiring Kocurek and switching to a wide-9.

        1. I think they determined almost every team on their schedule has a one-back offense, so they need to build their defense with that in mind. They used the Wide 9 at times last season, too.

          1. Well, whatever their main reason, it should help both the pass rush and the defense against outside runs.

          2. Grant

            I certainly expect that the addition of Dee Ford and Nick Bosa (whom I am not convinced yet) will put such additional pressure on opponents Olines, that Armstead, Buckner, and Blair, will be able to show how GOOD they have been over the last three seasons. They have simply been outmanned for lack of support from the edge and OLB, and to a lesser extent the DMG (DJ Jones fixed that). Double teams will become rare facing this front. AND, we have good backups.

            The pieces are in place, now lets play ball…I eagerly await Training camp….

    1. I have no problem with guys transferring between seasons. I absolutely hate what Nick Bosa did and I hate even more what Jalen Hurd did to his teammates. Quitting mid-season is absolutely a gutless punk move. Guys should be able to transfer. Kids are young and the school they picked right out of high school may not be a good fit from an academic or athletic perspective. I also hate that the rules put guys like Kelly Bryant in a position where he must leave his team by the 4th game to insure future eligibility. The NCAA is a totally jacked up enterprise but I will say I’m almost at the point where I enjoy college football more than the NFL.

      1. Richard Hightower- ‘Winners never quit, and quitters never win.’
        I wonder why Niners Nation and 49ers webzone took down his article. Maybe it hit too close to home.

      2. Houston

        Merely to mention a slight disagreement concerning transferring between seasons. They allowed it in Portland several years ago, but what it created was mostly in Basketball where a good…but not great… Point guard or Center would go shopping for a team that they could play full time for thus pushing out the existing players and thereby building an ALL Star Team which won all the marbles….some of the players attended 4 Schools, and so, had no Alma Mater….In it’s own way, it rips off a lot of round 2 players of opportunity….

  13. “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

    We can discuss ad nauseam the merits of the wide-9 but unless the players can execute their roles in the moment it’s all moot. The players still have to win their battles on the field, even if the wide-9 is the right formation to be in, if the players aren’t beating the man across from them it’ll still look like the wrong scheme.

    Does this defense have players that can beat the man across from them? The only player that I feel can achieve that consistently is Buckner.

  14. Jimmy’s biggest hurdle this year beyond staying healthy will be cleaning up his interception ratio. As a starter in SF he’s averaging 1.5 Td’s per pick. Brady has averaged 3 td’s/int for his career.

    1. C4C

      Yes, but Brady has always had that great Oline….Let’s see how our ‘new’ Oline functions this season….

    1. From the Twitter quote:

      “So I watched all 89 Jimmy Garoppolo pass attempts (2018 season) this week and I gotta say, it wasn’t pretty. He was pretty awful for the 3 games he played and the biggest issue is no anticipation, lots of hesitation, and lack of timing”

      Sounds like situation normal for JG’s 1st series of games having to run KS’ full offense rather than the security blanket/Pat’s hybrid offense from the prior season’s winning streak…

      Well, that– along with film on JG’s 5 2017 starts for DC’s to study…

      In addition to this– another Twitter comment:

      “Yep. I didn’t even have to go back and look at the film to remember that. But, I’m sure recovering from a torn ACL will help him this year. Plus he won’t be under the most scrutiny and pressure that any qb could ever be under this season. this should be fine.”

          1. Well hopefully the dog or the rabbit can help him fix the issues of “no anticipation, lots of hesitation, and lack of timing”

            All things that were easily seen watching the games in real time.

            The knee injury helped Garoppolo out in terms of how fans see him. He’s still being given the backup QB treatment.

            Wish I still had the time to go through the coaches film to break it all down. Plus I’d need to learn how to record it. Lol

        1. True regarding pick 6 called back vs Lions, but you did not address the points in the you tube – redzone drops, incorrect route running and falling down mid-route versus Vikings. Also our D gave up 28 points early to Mahommes which cant be blamed on JG.

          Would you acknowledge the niners had one of the worst receiving corps in the league. I think we were in Bills/Jags territory.

          1. The 49ers receiving corps was almost the same as the season before when everyone was anointing Garoppolo.

            Of course Garoppolo can’t be blamed for the play of the D or receivers running the wrong routes.

            None of those are things that I’m calling out or that Madrid pointed to in his few clips. Garoppolo just didn’t look like the same guy as the previous year. He was much more hesitant, and off overall through the first 3 weeks. In 17 he was free flowing, the game just evolved around him and he was “in the zone” for lack of a better term.

            This league has a way of figuring guys out, and if you can’t continually adjust you don’t make it. We’ll see.

    2. Pretty sure the board is in agreement. The team won’t be as good as the optimists hope they will be, and not as bad as the pessimists expect them to be.

      Pessimists get a free ride here, they are still fans and will enjoy the team outperforming their expectations. It’ll be up to us optimists to serve as much crow as possible. Early and often. :)

      1. Jimmy G ran a simplified scheme in 2017, and like a rookie phenom breaking in batting .300+ until other teams got a book on him. The point Jack made above.
        JG’s troubles in ‘18 also reminded me a bit of Matt Ryan’s hiccups as he learned Shanny’s System. Ryan broke out the next year as they went to the SB. My hope is JG can get past thinking as he continues to assimilate.

      2. — wherever you find yourself on the “realist/pessimist” vs. “optimist/apologist” scale, I’m sure that the coming season will have numerous recipes of crow served up to members (we know who we are) of both camps….

        — judging the successes or failures of the ’19 season on the QB or the D’s performance overlooks another, I say, drastic, weak spot– the members of the OL not named Staley…

        — until Richberg/McGlinchey/Tomlinson/Person/Garnett, etc., can impose their physical will on opposing DL’s in both IZ and Power run schemes (not just OZ schemes) and drastically improve pass pro, the offense (whomever the QB is) will continue to sputter and the D will have to put in lots of overtime, and we’ll see a repeat of the narrative of last season…

  15. Jumping Jack Hammer, always a bum, bum, bummer. New year, new team. Looking forward to seeing what he’s got.

  16. Yea ok Grant,the implementation of the wide 9 in certain situations has nothing to do with them trying to get to the passer.Its strictly a run fit.Did you have a lobotomy as a child?

  17. Looking at the strengths and weaknesses of various defensive schemes, the Wide 9 is mainly a pass rushing scheme, and is weak against the run.
    Considering the Niners face 5 out of the top 6 rushing teams, in 7 games (Seattle, Rams, Baltimore, Carolina and New Orleans), the Wide 9 will be severely tested for about half the season. The best chance for success utilizing the Wide 9, will be for third and long passing downs, and if the Niners have a lead.
    Maybe the better scheme to implement would be the Pete Carroll Hybrid 4-3, that uses some 3-4 fine points.
    Thankfully, the Niners have big enough DEs to run the 3-4, and good enough LBs to run the 4-3. Now, if only they can find that single high safety…..

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