Niners Sack Tracker, vol. II

This is a breakdown and analysis of the situations in which the Niners got their sacks in the 2009 season.  Overall, the team tied for 4th in the league with 44 sacks.  My methodology here was the following:

1) search through the game play-by-play recaps for times when the Niners got a sack
2) look up that instance in the game in question
3) Note the time, down and distance
4) Analyze the offensive and defensive formations including the Niners’ personnel
5) Describe the play as it developed
6) Explain why it happened beyond all the flying bodies—i.e. assign praise or blame.

The reason why I wanted to do this was because I wanted to have something other than a nebulous sense of who did what in terms of rushing the passer in the 2009 season.  This is volume II: I wrote up a Sack Tracker last year.
I know this is a ridiculously long post, but it did take some effort, so I’ve left some thoughts I was left with at the bottom of the post in the hopes that people will read my analysis--which of course forms the basis for my thoughts.  I appreciate the rec’s and the votes in the poll, but I’m most interested in having a good and informed conversation about the Niners’ pass rush in 09 and looking forward.

Let’s dive in!

Week, Home/Away vs. Opponent
Quarter, time, sacker
Down & Distance/Field Position
Opponents’ offensive personnel package and formation, under center or shotgun
Niners’ Defensive Formation (D-Line-left to right, Linebackers, DBs)
(coverage)=sack was due to exceptional down-field coverage: the QB had time to throw
(team)=sack was forced by a player or players who did not get the sack
(blitz/design)=sack was forced by confusion induced by the design of the play or an unexpected blitzer
(individual)=sack took place due to a player’s simply winning the match-up with his blocker

Week 1, Away vs. Arizona, 3 sacks
2nd quarter, 9:45, Parys Haralson
2nd and 10, Ari 11 yard-line
3 wides (2 left, 1 right, rb right (runs to split wide right), shotgun
Haralson, Ray McDonald, Justin Smith, Manny Lawson, 1 LB, 6 DBs
4 D-Linemen rush, McDonald is double-teamed, leaving the other 3 linemen 1-on-1 with their men.  Haralson bull-rushes and finally shucks the RT.  Warner steps up, but Haralson gets to him.  Looked like a coverage sack, but Warner didn’t have anywhere to step up from a deep drop because Smith stayed in his lane. (coverage)

2nd quarter, 0:40, McDonald
1st and 10, SF 33 yard-line
Trips bunch right, slot WR left, RB left, shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Lawson, Patrick Willis, 6 DBs
Straight rush with a blitz by Willis, who is picked up by the RB.  Lawson runs the corner on the LT, forcing Warner to step up—straight into the arms of McDonald.  Lawson didn’t get the sack, but McDonald owes this one to him; Warner had very little time to throw.  The blitz by Willis made the RB commit to blocking him early, which left the other linemen matched up 1-on-1, and Lawson won the battle, forcing Warner to effectively become a running back. (team)

4th quarter, 0:08, J. Smith
2nd and 10, 4 wides, 3 right, 1 left, RB right, shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Kentwan Balmer, Smith, LB (Willis), 6 DBs (prevent)
Smith stunts from his RE spot into the spot vacated by Balmer, who takes on a double-team.  When Smith stunts inside, the guard doesn’t recover, and Smith gets by him for a free run at Warner.  Great play design and great execution: McDonald was doubled by the RG and C, Balmer was doubled by the LG and LT, and Smith took advantage for a game-ending sack. (blitz/design)

Week 2, Home vs. Seattle, 1 sack
1st quarter, 14:20, McDonald
3rd and 7, Sea 25 yard-line
4 WRs, 1 wide right, 1 wide left, two stacked in the slot left, RB right, shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Lawson, Willis, 6 DBs
Front 4 rush straight, pressure from all angles.  The pocket collapses, and when Hasselbeck steps up, McDonald is there and makes no mistake.  Not a coverage sack, but the QB looked confused by a lot of pre-snap movement.  Lawson took a wide angle, but prevented an escape to the left (where the QB was looking). (team)

Week 3, Away vs. Minnesota, 2 sacks
2nd quarter, 8:45, Mark Roman
3rd and 6, Min 34 yard-line
3 wides, 1 right, 2 left, TE over RT, RB left, shotgun
McDonald, Lawson, Smith, Haralson, Willis, 6 DBs
6 man blitz with the 4 linemen rushing plus Willis overloaded on the right side of the line, and Roman, alone coming from the wide left defensive side.  The RB (Chester Taylor) is late coming over to block and gets a free shot at Brett Favre.  Delicious.  (blitz/design)

3rd quarter, 14:15, Aubrayo Franklin
2nd and 14, Min 25 yard-line
2 WR (split wide), 1 Te, 2 RB (off-set I right), under center
Base 3-4 Defense with all the starters in
Front 3 plus Lawson rush.  Lawson forces the QB to the offensive left where the QB plants again to throw.  Finally Lawson frees himself from the FB, forces Favre to step up (nearly poking the ball out in the process), and Franklin plants him.  Clearly a coverage sack, but Favre didn’t have all day to throw either. (coverage)

Week 4, Home vs. St. Louis, 5 sacks
1st quarter, 1:45, Willis
2nd and 8, StL 12
2 WR, 1 TE, 2 RB; Trips bunch right, under center
Base 3-4 defense in with all the starters except Balmer in for Sopoaga
Willis blitzes with the 3 down linemen, then Spikes comes after a beat.  The RB comes up to block Willis, but by the time he gets there, Willis is already leaping to take down the QB…which he does.  Well timed blitz. (blitz/design)

2nd quarter, 4:06, Takeo Spikes
1st and 10, StL 45
2 WR (left), 1 TE, 2 RB (I-form), under center
Base 3-4 with all the starters except Ahmad Brooks replacing Lawson
Spikes blitzes with the front 3 and Brooks.  The QB has enough time to make his first read, but soon after, Spikes, Brooks and Smith all free themselves.  Spikes gets there first, but had he failed, the QB wouldn’t have gotten away. (team)

3rd quarter, 12:38, Willis/Lawson
1st and 10, StL 17
2 WR (each split wide), 1 TE, 2 RB (FB over LT), under center
Base 3-4 with all the starters
Lawson rushes with the front 3.  Spikes covers up the RB after they run play action and Haralson gets the TE in the flat.  Nowhere to go with the ball, so the QB takes off, and Willis comes up from coverage to take down the QB with Lawson.  A coverage sack, but there wasn’t a ton of time.  The Rams committed 6 linemen to block 4 Niners and when nobody came free, the QB’s goose was cooked. (coverage)

4th quarter, 9:24, Dashon Goldson
3rd and 4, SF 22
4 WR (tight), 1 RB right, shotgun
Diryal Briggs, McDonald, Smith, Brooks, Willis, 6 DBs
Both DTs twist to the outside, but no real pass rush is generated.  Eventually (after what was enough time to throw), the QB scrambles to his left, goes into a slide by the line of scrimmage and Goldson nearly takes his head off.  Coverage sack all the way. (coverage)

4th quarter, 3:14, Willis
2nd and 9, StL 12
3 WR, 2 left, 1 right wide, 1 RB, under center
Balmer, Franklin, Demetric Evans-the 3; Haralson, Scott McKillop, Willis and Brooks-the 4; Base DBs
Willis blitzes the C/LG A-gap, and the RB whiffs on the block.  Willis takes him down in an instant.  More evidence that the Rams’ O-line was just overmatched here.  At this point it’s 35-0.  McKillop was there if Willis hadn’t taken him down. (blitz/design)

Week 7, Away vs. Houston, 2 sacks
2nd quarter, 1:10, Lawson
2nd and 10, Hou 38
3 WR, 2 left, 1 right (slot), 1 TE, 1 RB, under center
Haralson, Balmer, Smith, and Lawson, Willis and Spikes at LB, 5 DBs (a 4-2-5)
Bly blitzes from a LOLB position along with the front 4, and when the Texans run play action, Willis blitzes to take the RB.  Though Lawson is initially blocked, Bly and Willis get enough pressure on the offensive left side to push Schaub off his spot.  Lawson finally gets off his block and Lawson plants him.  The sack was created by Willis blitzing and winning his 1-on-1 matchup.  The Texans left 7 men in to block what ended up being 5 Niners, so this one goes down as a coverage sack. (coverage)

4th quarter, 8:47, Brooks
2nd and 10, SF 11
2 WR (slot right, slot left), 2 TE, 1 RB, under center
Base 3-4 with all the starters
Brooks rushes with the front 3, locks up with the LT, but eventually frees himself at almost the same moment as Smith gets off a double-team, forcing Schaub to step back into Brooks’ waiting arms.  (coverage)

Week 8, Away vs. Indianapolis, 3 sacks
2nd quarter, 7:40, Franklin
2nd and 5, Ind 38
3 WR (2 right, 1 left), 1 TE (in-line), RB left, shotgun
Sopoaga, Franklin, and Smith-the 3, Haralson, Willis, Spikes, 5 DBs
Haralson runs a wide corner, forcing Manning to step up, Smith also engages with the LT (nearly pushes the LT into Manning) and forces Manning to step up further.  Finally, Franklin beats his double-team and throws Manning for the loss.  A coverage sack, but Manning did not have a clean pocket. (coverage)

3rd quarter, 14:00, Isaac Sopoaga
2nd and 12, Ind 16
3 WR (2 left, 1 right), 1 TE (in-line), 1 RB left, shotgun
Franklin and Sopoaga down, Haralson, Willis, Spikes and Smith at the line, 5 DBs
Haralson, Sopoaga, Spikes and Smith rush.  Sopoaga slips by the C and throws the RG to the ground and plops down on Manning.  Franklin not rushing gave Sopoaga a 1-on-1 matchup, and Sopoaga just won it.  Manning had very little time to look downfield—not even enough to throw to his outlet guy by the right sideline—who was open.  Great job by Soap.  Manning also seemed confused by the coverage. (individual)

3rd quarter, 12:30, McDonald
3rd and 4, SF 15
3 WR (2 left, 1 right), 1 TE (in-line), 1 RB, shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Lawson, Willis, 6 DBs
Front 4 rush, and Willis goes when the RB stays in to block.  The RG seems to fall over after McDonald’s initial punch so by the time Manning is loading to get the ball out, McDonald’s arm is in the way.  Manning just tucks the ball and takes the sack.  All McDonald this time. (individual)

Week 9, Home vs. Tennessee, 1 sack
2nd quarter, 8:20, Lawson
3rd and 9, Ten 27
3 WR (1 L, 2 R), 1TE, 1 RB, Shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Lawson, Willis, 6 DBs
Spencer blitzes with the front 4 and Willis.  The front 5 are picked up, and the QB has time to set.  When he sees Spencer coming from his CB spot, though, the QB tries to spin out of Spencer’s path, which he does successfully—but there’s Justin Smith, who he avoids—but then there’s Lawson, who he can’t avoid.  Looked like Vince Young was confused by the coverage or that the coverage was good enough to not unload it on time.  Spencer had a free run at him, though, and that turned him into a running back and not a QB. (blitz/design)

Week 11, Away vs. Green Bay 2 Sacks
4th quarter, 15:00, Haralson
1st and 10, SF 37
5 WR (3 R, 2 L), shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Lawson, Willis, 6 DBs
The DTs twist, which makes the RG drop inside, leaving Haralson routes to the QB on either side of the RT.  Haralson puts a nasty swim move on the RT and frees himself up to the inside.  At this point he looks like a blitzing linebacker—he just accelerates past the RT and takes down the QB for a 13 yard loss.  Just a great job by Haralson.  To Lawson’s credit, he held up on the offensive left edge, which meant that the QB couldn’t escape to that side, but he wasn’t exactly pressuring Rodgers. (individual)

4th quarter, 9:50, Lawson
3rd and 2, GB 25
1 WR, 2 TE, 2 RB, under center
Base 3-4 with Evans in for Smith (!) and Wilhelm replacing Spikes
The front 3 rush with Haralson and Lawson.  Willis rushes, too, taking the back off the play action fake.  Lawson runs the corner high (over RT) and forces the QB to step up, and when he tries to escape to the right side, Lawson collapses back down on him for the sack.  Evans was also right there.  If the ball had come out on the 1st read, Rodgers would’ve been OK, but with the play-fake, it took him a moment to set up, and by that time Lawson was already pressing the pocket. (individual)

Week 12, Home vs. Jacksonville, 6 sacks
3rd quarter, 12:30, Lawson
2nd and 12, SF 17
3 WR, 1 TE (in-line), 1 RB left, shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Lawson, Willis, Spikes, 5 DBs
Front 4 rush.  Lawson bull-rushes the LT, who slips when he’s trying to plant and Lawson just burns his way to the QB for the sack and forced fumble.  This play pretty well seals the deal (already 17-3), as Justin Smith recovers the ball at the Jags’ 17 yard line. Really nice technique by Lawson, reaching around to David Garrard’s right arm, pinning it and smacking the ball loose.  Garrard had very little time to look downfield. (individual)

3rd quarter, 5:53, Evans/Willis
2nd and 10, Jax 35
Trips bunch left, 1 WR right, 1 RB, under center
Evans and McDonald down with Haralson, Willis, Spikes, and Lawson, 5 DBs
Goldson creeps up to the line on the Trips side of the formation, and he rushes with McDonald, Haralson and Evans.  Nobody picks up Goldson, who gets a free run at the QB—who spins out of the way at the last moment, but into the arms of Evans and Willis, who had crept into the backfield when the back stayed in to block.  This was pressure created by the blitz by Goldson—who seemed to be missed by the O-Line because he cut through the 3 receivers on the line of scrimmage.  (blitz/design)

4th quarter, 15:00, J. Smith/Haralson
4th and 2, SF 14
2 WR tight left, 1  TE, 2 RB, under center
Base 3-4 with all the starters, packed in pretty tight
Niners rush 6 (front 3, Haralson, Lawson and Spikes).  The back doesn’t see Haralson crash through the line, who gets a grip on Garrard but can’t take him down.  Smith frees himself and strips Garrard before he and Haralson take Garrard down and for a 13 yard loss—and recover the fumble fully 21 yards behind the initial line of scrimmage.  This was full-scale domination of the Jags O-Line by the Niners rush.  The fact that Maurice Jones-Drew is so small meant that he couldn’t see where the blitzers were coming from. (blitz/design)

4th quarter, 4:00, Haralson
2nd and 10, Jax 36
3 WRs (2 R, 1 L), 1 TE, 1 RB, shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Evans, Brooks, Willis, 6 DBs
The front 4 rush straight, Haralson swim moves to the inside, and when Garrard steps up because of back-side pressure by Brooks, Haralson makes no mistake and puts him down.

4th quarter, 3:30, Spikes
2nd and 6, SF 49
4 WR (3 L, 1 R) 1 RB (right), shotgun
Briggs, Sopoaga, Smith, Haralson, Spikes, Willis, 5 DBs
Spikes and Willis rush with Briggs, Sopoaga, and Smith.  Briggs and Sopoaga stunt.  Spikes simply runs the corner over RT, since the RT is engaged with Sopoaga on the stunt.  There was very little time for Garrard to do anything. (blitz/design)

4th quarter, 2:30, J. Smith
4th and 11, Jax 46
3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB (right), shotgun
Briggs, McDonald, Smith, Spikes, Willis, 6 DBs
Somehow Smith gets singled up against the LT and help from the Guard only arrives by the time Smith has punched him away and is making his way to the QB.  It was kneel-downs pretty well from this point on. (individual)

Week 13, Away vs. Seattle, 5 sacks
1st quarter, 13:08, Lawson
1st and 10, Sea 22
2 WR (left), 1 TE, 2 RB (I-form), under center
Base 3-4 with all the starters
Lawson rushes with the front 3, coming free off the TE in the offensive right slot either to rush or to pick up the play fake to that side.  After a pump-fake by the QB, Lawson pushes the FB back into the QB, frees himself, and takes down the QB.  Good job by Lawson (who stripped the ball when he got the sack—the Niners recovered), but it seemed like the line figured Haralson was coming off the offensive left side. (individual)

1st quarter, 3:40, Brooks
3rd and 8, Sea 25
3 WR (2 R, 1 L), 2 RB (each side of the QB), shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Brooks, Willis, Spikes, 5 DBs
The DTs stunt, which gives Brooks space to spin inside on the LT.  At the same time as Brooks spins, Haralson frees himself from the RT, forcing Matt Hasselbeck to step up in the pocket—and right into Brooks.  Haralson created the initial pressure, but if Brooks hadn’t beaten the LT so soundly, it wouldn’t have been a sure sack. (team)

2nd quarter, 2:00, M. Lewis
3rd and 6, SF 32
3 WR (2 L, 1 R), 1 TE (slot left), 1 RB left, shotgun
Brooks, McDonald, Smith, Lawson, Willis, 6 DBs
Front 3 rush with Lawson and Michael Lewis, and Lewis gets a free run—totally unblocked.  Why?  Because the LT picked up Lawson, who again came off of Carlson (the TE) in the slot.  Lewis also stripped the ball—though the Seachickens recovered.  Boo. (blitz/design)

3rd quarter, 3:52, Goldson/Spikes
3rd and 1, Sea 40
2 WR (tight), 1 TE, 2 RB (I-form), under center
Base 3-4 with all the starters
Seattle runs a play-fake off the right side and the QB boots right.  Lawson is initially blocked by the TE, but hastens the QB’s sprint to the sideline.  Spikes tracks across the formation and pounces when the QB looks to pick up the 1st down with his legs, and he meets Goldson just behind the line of scrimmage.  Hasselbeck took a terrific lick at the end of the play, and would’ve certainly just thrown the ball away if Lawson hadn’t been held on the play (making the QB think he could still pick up the 1st).  Good coverage, but it didn’t take the QB long to turn into a running back.  (coverage)

4th quarter, 14:00, Haralson
3rd and 5, SF 32
3 WR (1 R, 2 L), 1 TE, 1 RB, under center
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Brooks, Spikes, Willis, 5 DBs
Niners rush 4, and the QB has a pocket, but one that’s too small for him to really set up.  Haralson and Brooks squeeze the edges, and when Hasselbeck tries to escape to the offensive right side, Haralson collapses back down onto him.  Not a ton of time, but the QB kinda stepped up into it. (team)

Week 14, Home vs. Arizona, 4 sacks
2nd quarter, 0:42, Brooks
1st and 10, SF 41
4 WR, (2 each side), 1 RB right, shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Brooks, Willis, 6 DBs
Niners rush 4, Haralson and Brooks each run wide around the corners, but Warner doesn’t step up far enough to avoid Brooks, who pins his right arm and strips the ball—recovered by the Niners.  Brooks ran that corner like Dwight Freeney.  Seriously—he just made the LT look silly. (individual)

3rd quarter, 5:30, Brooks
3rd and 13, SF 24
4 WR (trips right, 1 left), RB left, shotgun
Smith, McDonald, Haralson, Brooks, Willis, 6 DBs
Niners rush 3 (Haralson drops), Smith bullrushes the RT collapsing the pocket (while 3 guys block McDonald), Brooks beats the LT again and drags the QB down.  The RB should’ve given Brooks a chip, but didn’t manage to do so before going out into the pass pattern.  Smith prevented the QB from stepping up, but Brooks again made the LT look silly. (individual)

4th quarter, 8:56, Brooks
2nd and 3, Ari 31
4 WRs (2 stacked slot left, 2 right), 1 RB right, shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Brooks, Willis, 6 DBs
Niners rush 4, Brooks runs the corner, sack and strip.  Somebody call the fire department—the LT has been torched.  Cards recover the ball, but not their dignity.

4th quarter, 8:30, Willis
3rd and 7, Ari 27
4 WR (trips right, 1 slot left, 1 RB left, shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Lawson, Willis, 6 DBs
Niners rush 4 and Willis rushes when the RB stays to block.  Lawson presses the LT back into the pocket and basically takes out the blocking RB.  McDonald stands up his man, and when the C and RG are occupied by Justin Smith, and the QB steps up, Willis is there to meet him. (team)

Week 16, Home vs. Detroit, 2 sacks
1st quarter, 14:00, Spikes
2nd and 1, Det 44
1 WR, 2 TE, 2 RB (off-set I left), under center
Base 3-4 with all the starters
Wide play-action bootleg right, Niners rush 4 (Lawson drops), Spikes is in coverage against a TE.  As the QB is looking at the TE that’s on the line of scrimmage, Spikes just knocks him down (legally, mind you) and then goes after the QB.  Must have been good coverage down the field, because the QB only had eyes for the TE that Spikes was covering.  Probably a coverage sack. (coverage)

2nd quarter, 14:00, Brooks
1st and 10, SF 44
3 Wides (2 R, 1 L) 1 TE (in-line), 1 RB, under center
Base 3-4 with all the starters except Evans replaces Smith
Niners rush 4 (Lawson drops), Lions run play-action and try to block Brooks with a TE.  Brooks runs the corner on him and pokes the ball out, meeting the QB at the deepest point of his (5-step) drop.  Stanton had barely started to load his arm to throw when Brooks poked it out, so this one is Brooks all the way.  Niners recover. (individual)

Week 17, Away vs. St Louis, 8 sacks
1st quarter, 2:05, Lawson
2nd and 5, StL 37
2 WR (both wide), 2 TE, 1 RB, under center
Base 3-4 with all the starters
Rams run a bootleg right, and Lawson is in coverage on a TE that’s rolling right with the TE.  When there’s nobody open, the QB steps out of bounds in front of Lawson, who gets the ‘sack’.  A coverage sack all the way. (coverage)

1st quarter, 1:30, J. Smith, Haralson
3rd and 6, StL 36
4 WRs (3 L, 1 R), 1 RB right, shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Lawson, Willis, 6 DBs
Niners rush the front 4 plus Willis.  The pocket collapses when Willis rushes up the middle, which frees Smith, who chases and tackles the QB with Haralson, who collapses from his position locked up with the RT. (team)

2nd quarter, 14:49, Evans
1st and 10, SF 48
2 WR, 1 TE (in line), 2 RB (offset-I right), under center
Base 3-4 with all the starters except Evans replacing Smith
Play-fake right with the RB, but no sooner have they run it than Evans has broken through the line on a bull rush and takes down the QB just as he was trying to unload the ball.  The Niners rushed 4 (Lawson dropped), so this one is Evans just beating his man with a sweet arm-over move. (individual)

2nd quarter, 0:37, J. Smith
3rd and 2, SF 20
3 WR (1 right, 2 left), 1 TE, 1 RB right, shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Brooks
Niners rush 4, and J. Smith just bull-rushes and punches the LG out of the way.  He makes a path for himself to the QB and makes no mistake.  Brooks and Haralson had the corners bracketed and McDonald made sure there wasn’t a place to really take off down the field, but Smith was so free that even if he’d tried, Smith would’ve tracked him down. (individual)

3rd quarter, 13:22, J. Smith
1st and 15, StL 32
2 WR, 1 TE, 2 RB (pro-form), under center
Base 3-4
Niners rush 4, the Rams try to set up the screen but before the QB can get it away, J. Smith is all over him.  The LG just allowed Smith to penetrate too deep before he released him to get out to block for the screen. (individual)

4th quarter, 7:29, J. Smith
1st and 10, StL 23
4 WR (2 stacked wide left, 2 stacked tight right), 1 RB left, shotgun
Base 3-4 with all the starters
Niners rush 5 (Lawson drops as Willis blitzes).  Willis starts inside Smith from a LB spot, but runs right as Smith drops into the A-gap.  This confuses the C, who comes off to help with Willis, giving Smith a free run to the QB.  Good blitz scheme because they dropped into it just before the snap, preventing any pre-snap adjustments. (blitz/design)

4th quarter, 3:21, Goldson
2nd and 1, StL 44
3 WR (2 L, 1R) 1 TE, 1 RB, shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Willis, Spikes 6 DBs
Goldson lines up in a ROLB spot and rushes at the snap with Haralson, McDonald, and Smith. Willis also takes the back, who stays in to block with the TE.  Goldson is unaccounted for, and he runs around the LT (who had blocked down on Smith) for the sack.  This looked like a defensive adjustment; the Rams were now double-teaming Smith, which automatically freed up the outside rusher…so the Niners sent an outside rusher when they weren’t expecting one. (blitz/design)

4th quarter, 3:15, Bly
3rd and 8, StL 37
4 WR (3 L, 1 R), 1 RB, shotgun
Haralson, McDonald, Smith, Willis, 6 DBs
Niners rush 5 including Dre Bly, who comes off the ball like his pants are on fire.  Just as with the last play, the LT was blocking down, so Bly got a free run at the QB and puts a pretty good lick onto him. (blitz/design)

Final Numbers:
Player    Sck
Lawson, Manny    6.5
Smith, Justin    6
Brooks, Ahmad    6
Haralson, Parys    5
Willis, Patrick    4
Spikes, Takeo    4
McDonald, Ray    3
Goldson, Dashon    2
Franklin, Aubrayo    2
Evans, Demetric    1.5
Lewis, Michael    1
Roman, Mark    1
Bly, Dre'    1
Sopoaga, Isaac    1
Total:    44

Coverage Sacks=10
Team Sacks=10
Blitz/Design Sacks=12
Individual Sacks=13

Sacks by formation:
Under Center: 18
Shotgun: 26

Player-Specific Impressions:
Manny Lawson: Really showed a lot of improvement this year over last.  I was actually quite shocked with how much he improved, both with his bull-rushes and his ability to turn the corner around the Offensive Tackle (even when he didn’t get sacks. He picked up a couple of sacks by pressing the pocket on the corner and then collapsing back down inside when the QB tried to escape.  He had many more opportunities than last year, but he’s come a long way from last year (when most of his sacks were paper sacks).

Justin Smith: As we all know, he’s a workhorse.  Rarely not on the field and never gives up on a play.  The 3.5 sacks he got in the final game against the Rams were well-deserved, but clearly not against the highest level of competition.  He was involved in more stunts this year, and that freed him up quite effectively a couple of times.  As a pass-rusher he’s almost always a bull-rusher, but that has its advantages, since it prevents the QB from scrambling up the middle. 

Ahmad Brooks If there’s one guy who blew me away this year looking over the tape, it’s this guy.  Fully 4 of his 6 sacks were him just torching the Offensive Tackle (i.e. strictly individual sacks), and he forced 3 fumbles on those plays.  The Niners didn’t have a guy with his athletic tools last year (I’ll get into Haralson in a moment), which makes me very excited.  Amazing burst around the corner, and has a real knack for pinning the right arm and/or knocking the ball out.

Parys Haralson:  Haralson had the look of a guy who was going to break out last year, but it didn’t really happen.  There were a number of times last year when he ran the corner around the RT from his LOLB spot for sacks, but that didn’t happen this year.  He did unveil a pretty nice swim move that got him to the QB, but given that he was in for almost all the plays I watched, I expected more out of him.  In fact, I think the Niners would be better off subbing Brooks in for Haralson than for Lawson.

Ray McDonald:  He only had 3 sacks all year, but he consistently did a good job of pressing the pocket.  Typically, when a "team" sack took place, it was because McDonald was involved.  He is very agile for a big guy (which is great for stunts) and uses his hands well.  A very solid Nickel DT.

Patrick Willis: Willis registered a career high in sacks this year, and benefitted greatly from what looked like more opportunities to be a blitzer.  He often was in the backfield when he went to cover the back on play action and when the back stays in to block, and was thus involved in pressing the pocket.  He really doesn’t have any moves other than pure speed for getting to the QB—but that’s not nothing.  There were a couple of sacks that were just spectacular precisely because he got there so quickly on the blitz.  He does have work to do in terms of hand use and pass-rush moves.  Still, 4 sacks out of your MLB is nothing to sneeze at.

Takeo Spikes: a very smart player who is always clear about his responsibilities down the field before taking off for the QB.  He wasn’t involved very often on passing downs, and was usually the MLB that drops when P-Willy takes the RB.  He did well to get 4 sacks considering how seldom he was involved in rushing the passer.

Play-Calling Impressions:
The play-calling has obviously improved when you add 14 sacks to your yearly total.  Two things stood out to me: first, the number of blitz/design sacks.  This was the lowest total (of the 4 categories I tracked last season and this) last season, and the second highest this season.  By my rough calculation, on the plays that generated sacks, the Niners rushed 4 people 60% of the time, 5 30% of the time, and 6 10% of the time.  They sent DBs relatively seldom—maybe about 10% of the time—though when they did, they were quite effective.  As noted above, there was more stunting and twisting, but there weren’t very many plays that I saw where a DT or 3-4 DE dropped into coverage—a bit surprising given that J. Smith probably has the skills to do that.  Perhaps that’s a wrinkle they’ll add next year.  Also, there wasn’t a lot of over-load blitzing.  What I did see, though was a lot of movement before the snap.  Despite the tendencies I’ve noted, offensive lines were often confused about who was coming—that was the case much more this year than last.
The second thing that stood out to me was the number of individual sacks.  This was the second lowest category last year, and the highest this year.  Brooks was the star of this show, though Justin Smith was pretty impressive as well. 

Final thoughts:
Overall, I feel a LOT better about the Niners pass rush this year than I did last year.  The addition of Brooks was a revelation, and that rotation at OLB (Lawson, Haralson, Brooks) is young and has upside.  I’d still be up for adding another OLB, since Diyral Briggs looked TERRIBLE when he was in there (very tentative, I don’t know what the team sees in him).  I also feel better about the play calling for the reasons just stated.  The fact that the pass rush has improved so much suggests to me that the best thing the defense can do to improve at this point is draft some young talent for the secondary—because that will, ultimately, help the pass rush. 

Now, questions:
Do you think the Niners’ sack total will go up or down in 2009
Do you think the Niners should select a pass-rushing OLB or Nickel DT (a quick 1-gapper) in the draft, and if so, which round?
Is there a Roderick Green (guy you hate and wish the team would ship out)?
Is there someone you’re excited to see rush the passer in 2010?
And finally, vote in the poll:

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.

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