49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has received all sorts of praise for the job he has done turning the San Francisco 49ers into playoff contenders. The team is off to a red-hot 5-1 start, winning three East Coast road games already and displaying a level of confidence we have not seen in quite some time.
As awesome a job as he is doing, his coaching staff has been just as integral. Harbaugh deserves credit for bringing them with him to San Francisco, but they deserve credit in their own right for the work they have done with their respective units. Most of the units have areas where they can improve, but they have taken significant steps forward across the board in 2011.
You could argue Coach Fangio might deserve the early season coaching staff MVP. The 49ers have had significant talent on defense in recent years, and the defense was always solid. However, Coach Fangio has brought in some creativity in the pass rush and has utilized the existing talent in all sorts of new ways. Talent has to execute for the team to have success, but Coach Fangio has mixed in all sorts of scheming to help that defense be in a better position to succeed when they do execute.
Whether we are talking about the dominant red zone defense, the continued ability to contain the run, the adjustments on the fly against Michael Vick. The defense has really come together a step beyond what we have seen in recent seasons. Eric Branch spoke with NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell and his comments about Chris Culliver pointed to some of the smart scheming by Fangio:
In their nickel and dime sub-packages, the Niners have a strong tendency to play what we call two-man, or man-under two-deep, in which (Culliver) plays man-to-man and there's a safety over the top. I'm not saying it's easy to play that, but you can step right in and play that because you essentially can get beat and you have help over the top. In fact, very often you can almost allow yourself to get beat and undercut the route.
Culliver was able to get aggressive against Tampa Bay in making a play on the ball and snagging the interception. Knowing he has help over the top might not be rocket science, but it is a significant advantage nonetheless.
Considering the level of talent at his disposal, it is easy to overlook the job Brad Seely has done with the special teams. However, the coverage and blocking units have played with tremendous discipline this season. The coaching staff has kept them in their lanes as appropriate and they have had tremendous success, currently ranking number one in overall special teams. If it was just one particular aspect that was dramatically excelling, that would be one thing. But when all four units are taking care of business on a consistent basis, that says something else entirely.
Although the 49ers offense still has a lot of room for growth, the week-to-week scheming has been quite solid. The work against Ndamukong Suh was as impressive as anything we have seen this year. It shows an ability to single out a team's strength and counter it with some smart, heads-up scheming.
The passing game still has some issues that need to be figured out, but all things considered, this offense is showing improvement. We won't get big performances like the 48-3 domination of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but I don't expect to see quite as many offensive struggles like we saw against the Cincinnati Bengals. The next few weeks will feature some tough opponents so the offensive game-plan is something we all will be keeping a close eye on.
How much more needs to be said about this man that hasn't already been said? The 49ers resident Lothario has done a masterful job with the 49ers defensive line. Teams cannot get through them in the run and the motors along the line are impressive. At defensive end positions we have Justin Smith and Aldon Smith both refuse to give up on plays and eventually create sacks and fumbles. Tomsula brings amazing energy to the team and the players seem to respond to it. Talent is essential in execution, but when you have a coach with which you will go to war, that adds a whole new level.
The 49ers quarterbacks coach is a bit of a mystery and you can even see it in his refusal to discuss the team's QB meetings. Nonetheless, he is doing something right as Alex Smith has had his modest renaissance in 2011. That link above takes you to an article about the team's QB meetings and what goes on in the meeting room. There is a comment about how Alex Smith craves detailed instruction and a ton of specifics about the game plan. We knew this about going all the way back to the Urban Meyer quote after the draft, and Chryst (and Roman) seems to know what to give him to help him succeed.
Mike Solari/Tim Drevno
The 49ers co-offensive line coaches dealt with a struggling offensive line early in the season, but they have seen their offensive step up in recent weeks. Given the addition of a new center and the lockout-shortened offseason, the two coaches have put together some solid work in getting the line together fairly quickly.
There is plenty of room for improvement, but the line appears to be moving in the right direction. Benching Chilo Rachal and inserting Adam Snyder appears to have been a key move as it might be stabilizing the spot next to Anthony Davis. One event that pleased me with the offensive line was that even though there were multiple false starts this past Sunday in Detroit, no player had more than one. Ideally they'll have none, but in that kind of loud environment the players were able to rebound with success.
The 49ers have gotten some great work from their linebackers, particularly the dynamic duo of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Coach Leavitt was brought in as linebackers coach, but honestly, I have no idea how his involvement impacts them. As a former head coach he has a broader perspective on the defensive side of the ball, so that could be of value. And with a veteran like him working alongside Vic Fangio, it could conceivably provide some more perspective for the defensive coordinator. I honestly don't know, but I do know the linebackers are kicking much butt.
The entire coaching staff deserves a ton of praise, whether it be Tom Rathman's work with the running backs and Reggie Davis with the tight ends. I think the above that I have detailed have made some of the biggest moves through the first six weeks of the NFL season.
Aside from Coach Harbaugh himself, do you think one particular coach stands out as a sort of "pre-bye MVP"?