The 49ers had a good deal of success this past Sunday against the New York Giants, but there was one play in particular that cost the team. In the fourth quarter, with the 49ers leading 27-13, the Giants moved 80 yards down the field with relative ease, getting seven points on a 32 yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks.
The touchdown came on 3rd and 6 and saw the 49ers blitz Dashon Goldson from fairly deep in the secondary. As he came in on the blitz, Reggie Smith began rolling to his right towards where Hakeem Nicks was running deep. Unfortunately, Goldson never had a shot at Manning and Smith did not get over in time to help Tarell Brown.
None of us knows the specifics of the play-call, but it might have helped if Brown had gotten a bit of a jam on Nicks. If he had jammed Nicks, Manning has to wait a little longer before making the throw. That gives Dashon a better chance at getting close on the blitz and also gives Reggie Smith more time to cut over. On the other side of the field, Chris Culliver was on Jake Ballard and Carlos Rogers was on Mario Manningham.
One reason Smith might have been slow getting over is to have an opportunity to provide some help for Rogers and Culliver. Eli looked Nicks way the whole way, so maybe Smith didn't want to completely sell out that way in case Manning was trying to look him off. We'll never know, but it's hopefully something the 49ers addressed when they broke down tape of the game.
I bring all this up in part because defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was asked about it today before practice. He didn't have a whole lot to say about it other than it was a zone blitz and it just didn't work out.
Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio
Press Conference - November 17, 2011
San Francisco 49ers
Is there any question in your mind which quarterback you're going to be facing on Sunday?
"Well, it seems like it's going to be [Cardinals QB John] Skelton based upon the reports and the comments."
What about him and is there anything about him that stands out? He's obviously had a couple of nice games recently.
"He's got good arm talent. This guy can throw the ball. He's got an easy release. He's got a strong arm. Kind of reminds me of [Ravens QB Joe] Flacco a little bit with his arm strength and how easy the ball comes out. His feet don't have to be set. He can still get a lot of steam on the ball. Throws a good deep ball, and in the last couple of weeks he's fallen in love with [Cardinals WR Larry] Fitzgerald, which is smart on his part. So, I've been impressed with the guy."
Earlier in the season you'd said one of the things with [LB] Patrick Willis you were working on is maybe pass rush, and his teammates have said his pass coverage has definitely improved. What's the biggest improvement you've seen in that regard to Patrick?
"He's done better lately in rushing the passer when we blitz him. He got the sack last game and he's applied some pressure here of late, and he has been improving. And that's a credit to Pat that he's able to improve during the season when you don't do a lot of pass-rush drill work, particularly in the way he blitzes and stuff. So, I've been pleased and he's making good progress as a blitzer, and we expect to use it."
Did you guys blitz more in the Giants game than you had previously?
"No, not really."
You had the blitz, the safety blitz that resulted in a touchdown. I don't recall a lot of safeties blitzing this year, is that?
"No they haven't. Nope."
Is that why, because you like to have those guys back there?
"Yeah that was a zone pressure, the one you're talking about. So, it wasn't like it was a total sellout by any means. We just seem to play better. We haven't had the reason to blitz the safeties a lot, but we have done it some with some mixed success."
When you guys played against Detroit and [Lions WR] Calvin Johnson, obviously he demanded a lot of attention. Does Fitzgerald, would you approach him kind of the same way and do you have to double him a lot?
"Well they're two very similar receivers. One of them is probably the best in the league and the other one's 1A, however you want to look at it. Both big, strong guys who command a lot of attention. They're a hard cover one-on-one, but as in any game as it was in that other game, somebody's going to have to cover them at some point. You're not going to be able to have two guys assigned to him each and every play. But, they're definitely if they're not the best receiver in the game, one of the other one is. And they're tough to defend."
Do the Cardinals put Larry in the slot more though?
"Yes they move him around. He could end up anywhere on the field."
Tell me how you think [CB] Chris Culliver has stepped up in the past few weeks.
"Overall during the season, he's done well when he's gotten his opportunity. He didn't play quite as well last week as he had been. He knows that and he's ready to rectify that situation, hopefully, and play good. But, overall if you're looking for an overall grade and comment, I've been pleased with the way he's played."
It seems like he's been targeted a lot on third downs the past two games?
"I don't know if that's been the case. A lot of times it's just where the quarterback goes through his reads and that dictates where the ball goes sometimes. I don't know that I've sensed that teams have said, hey we're going to throw the ball at him. I don't think that's been the case."
Vic, with that pass to [Giants WR Mario] Manningham on the Giants' last drive that [Giants QB Eli] Manning just missed, obviously if that's complete and that's a touchdown that's probably going to bring up what's wrong with the secondary and you know all that stuff, is that a concern to you just being maybe susceptible to deep balls?
"Well I think no more than any other team as that goes. The passing game in the NFL is tough to defend at times. And they're going to stretch the field, particularly a balanced attack like they were and like the one we're going to see this week. This team here has other good receivers besides Fitzgerald. So, it's just going to happen some. They're going to throw the ball down there. We've got to be able to make plays. I was disappointed we weren't in better position on that play, but I don't see it as an epidemic that we have a major problem."
The last couple of weeks the pass rush hasn't been as effective as maybe some of the prior games, is there anything that you've seen, or noticed that other opponents are doing differently?
"No. If you're comment is a reflection because the sacks haven't been as high as we've had previously, sacks isn't always the greatest indicator of pass rush. If the pressure's there, how quickly the quarterback's getting it out. I think our rush last week had been basically like it was during most of the season, but he was a quarterback that was going to get it out quicker. And going back to the Washington game, Washington if you remember came off that game where they had nine or 10 sacks against them, and anytime that happens it's a red alert for them that that's got to be fixed. So, and they fixed it in a couple ways. In one of the ways the quarterback getting the ball out so quick and that was one of the reasons that quarterback threw so many check-downs in that game. So, I don't see it that way. The sack numbers have been down in the last two weeks, but that's really not the only and it's not the truest indicator of your rush."
When it comes to forcing turnovers, do you guys have any mantras or sayings yet, or what kind of emphasis are you putting on it?
"No we've just put a lot of emphasis on it, like most teams do, and our guys have done a good job with getting them. It's a tricky thing sometimes. Sometimes you can put as much work as you physically possibly can and they don't come, and sometimes they come in bunches. It's been a good area for us this year. We seem to have gotten a couple every game most of the time, and hadn't been like we've lead the league because we've gotten seven in one game. It's kind of been consistent and hopefully we'll continue that way."
When you're forcing a team to matriculate down the field like you guys do, is the idea that is the greater chance for that team to make a mistake, or for there to be a turnover, is that part of the philosophy?
"Well I think that's part of anybody's philosophy. The longer you can stay out there and not give up the big play, the better chance you have to stop them eventually, or they stop themselves, as you're alluding to. So, our philosophy isn't bend but don't break, but sometimes that's the way it plays out."