FanPost

The 49ers Greatest Offensive Challenge: Identified?


This post was actually started as an e-mail I was going to send to my dad, but I decided it was a good idea to share the correlations I've spotted here on Niners Nation. This may not necessarily be groundbreaking or something many people haven't already identified, but I do think it deserves to be discussed as it has serious implications on the 49ers future in the playoffs.

After watching the 49ers offensive drives in detail on the Cardinals/49ers tape, I think I've identified a major problem with the 49ers offense. More specifically, the type of defense that gives them trouble: the 3-4 zone blitz scheme.

In the 49ers 3 losses this year, they were facing a team that runs a variation of the 3-4 zone blitzing scheme (Dallas, Baltimore, Arizona). Each team uses it their own way, but the concepts are essentially the same (Dallas & Baltimore more heavy on linebackers while Arizona uses defensive backs extremely aggressively). Steve Young calls it "the amoeba defense."

Use these stats for reference (through week 14):

  • 49ers avg sacks per game: 3.0
  • 49ers sacks in three losses: 6 (Vs. DAL), 9 (@ BAL), 5 (@ ARI).
  • 49ers avg points per game: 23.6
  • 49ers points in three losses: 24 (Vs. DAL), 6 (@ BAL), 19 (@ ARI).

Note: It's worth mentioning the 49ers defense gave up 27, 16, and 21 points respectively in the three losses, all well above their average of 14.0.

It does seem the 49ers are able to score some against these defenses (outside of Baltimore), but they clearly struggle to protect the QB, which leads to a lot of problems. 2 of these 3 games the team scored well below the season average.

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In a few important victories this season (Philadelphia, Detroit, New York), the teams ran the 4-3 & nickel and utilized more man coverage and one-on-one match ups in the front 7. All 3 teams run the "wide 9" technique, using speed defensive ends well wide of the offensive tackles.

So again, for statistical reference (through week 14):

  • 49ers avg sacks per game: 3.0
  • 49ers sacks in these wins: 3 (@ PHI), 2 (@ DET), 2 (Vs. NYG).
  • 49ers avg points per game: 23.6
  • 49ers points in these wins: 24 (@ PHI), 25 (@ DET), 27 (Vs. NYG).

Here we can clearly see the sack totals are at average or below average, and the point totals are above the season average.

I think there is a clear correlation. Also, I believe Baltimore truly did expose the 49ers offense. This does not bode well for MNF as the Steelers are as good as any in running this type of scheme. In fact, the Cardinals D-coordinator is of the Steelers breed. As far as I know he brought his own version of their defense to Arizona. Green Bay and New Orleans also run variations of these 3-4 zone-blitzing schemes, granted nowhere near the level of Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

The good news? The 49ers managed to play well against the same Cardinals defense a month ago (I know, that doesn't say much) and they managed 24 points in the overtime loss to the Cowboys. The better news: It is clearly an identifiable problem and the 49ers have time to correct the issues in protecting against the more unpredictable 3-4 zone blitzing defenses. But with some of the likely playoff matchups (Saints, Packers) approaching, I have serious concerns if the protection will be up to the challenge in these games (remember how terrible the 49ers protection was in the pre-season against the Saints?) (Yes, I know they were raw/barely knew what they were doing... but still). Let's hope the 49ers figure it out... and fast. Ideally in time for MNF against the Steelers.

What do you guys think? Strong correlation or coincidence? Are you concerned or not? Do you think it is fixable in time for the playoffs? How much responsibility do you think Alex Smith carries in these protection problems? Do you think certain individual lineman are more to blame than others? I'd like to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Edit Update: Clearly I'm not the only one spotting the problem the 49ers have with zone blitzes (3-4/4-3 is less the problem than the scheme itself).

A little affirmation for my observation: Along with many of you fellow fans spotting the problem, this was Tweeted by Matt Barrows on Wednesday morning: "Gruden, Jaworski: Common theme on 49ers o-line breakdowns is inability to pick up zone blitzes. Youngsters Iupati, Davis struggle w/ that."

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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