Stanford Game-Video Breakdown: Defense vs. Cal Offense

Today I'm looking at the same game as Thursday's post, but the other side of the ball for the Cardinal: Defense.  Not only did we get Greg Roman for the Offensive Coordinator gig (to go along with the mastermind that is Jim Harbaugh), but we also ended up landing Vic Fangio as Defensive Coordinator - both Stanford coaches in this game vs. the University of California.

Fangio has a lot of NFL experience, most notably spending a lot of time with Green Bay Packers DC Dom Capers.  Fangio ran a 3-4 defense at Stanford and looks to incorporate a fairly similar scheme with the 49ers.  I for one believe that the defense will use muliple fronts but ultimately take advantage of the personnel on the team, and on the field at any given time.

So let's get started checking out Stanford's defense versus Cal's offense and see if we can get any clues as to what Fangio likes to do with his scheme.  Big props to Josh from Mocking the Draft for clipping these videos, removing commercials, huddles, and all other non-essential content. 

The video is posted after the jump.

High level overview and thoughts:

Through most of the video I only saw base 3-4 and Nickel formations.  We'll have to look at other games to see if this trend holds true, but initially it looks like Fangio plays the formations pretty straightforward, it's where he lines guys up in base defense that matters, and which guys have which responsibilities.

I see a lot of one-gap play by the nose tackle, Sione Fua.  One-gapping means to attack the gap between the center and guard and look to make a play on any runs to your gap.  The inverse, two-gapping, is where you would hold the middle and look to make a play on either side of you, essentially two gaps (one on either side of the center)...hence the names.

Sometimes this is due to a crash-call, where the entire D-Line "crashes" or all attacks the gap to their left, for instance...moving the defensive pressure all to one side if the coordinator feels the run will go to that side.  Again, something to note and look at in future games we watch.

In terms of where the OLB's line up in base 3-4, this is where I like what I see and hope we get this in San Francisco under Fangio.  He has both OLB's on the line of scrimmage, creating a 5-man front prior to the snap.  If the OLB's are skilled at diagnosing run/pass cues, they can quickly determine whether to rush or set the edge.  This predominantly makes them pass rushers or run defenders, something a 4-3 DE convert like Aldon Smith will appreciate since it's essentially the same role he had in college while playing end.

On Thursday Trent Baalke eluded to the fact that the 49ers wont ask their OLB's to be dynamic coverage players.  He said when they drop back they'd mostly just be asked to sit back in a zone and make plays in front of them, something even 4-3 DE's have done on occasion.  I think this simplification of roles will help the pass rush by not taking defenders away from those duties to cover receivers man-to-man (or cover at all most of the time).

I noticed too that Fangio played Nickel on 2nd and long more than once too.  He seems to play the situation more than just the down.  Another thing he did in Nickel was to dial-up gut-blitzes with his linebackers, something Patrick Willis excels at and fans have been craving.

Finally, if you listen with the sound up you'll notice something: The team is very disciplined about shouting out "PASS!" once they've diagnosed the play is a pass.  It speaks to the little things that I hope we see brought to the 49ers defense this year too.  Things that help a DB know it's just a run-fake and not to bite...that tell potential pass rushers to pin their ears back and not worry about a run to the outside.  Something we learned as kids that stood out to me.

Now let's get to a few specific plays.

Some specific plays to note:

At around 4:18 in...who's where?  Who's a DL, who's a LB, who's coming, who's dropping?!?  I can't even figure out what formation they're in, though if I had to guess i'd say some form of Nickel or Dime (see all the DB's, even rushing the passer?).  Great creative blitz and it worked.

At the 7:11 mark you'll notice something else that I love in the zone-blitz: Defensive linemen dropping into shallow zones.  This confuses the offensive linemen, who are looking to block the guy in front of them, and allows other players (usually linebackers) to blitz from unexpected locations.  So long as you only ask the DL's to fill the short-middle of the field and not run with anyone, it's generally a good change-of-pace play.

There wasn't a lot in this video to look at defensively that hasn't already been mentioned.  Obviously Stanford was beating up on Cal by the half and there wasn't much pressure on the defense to be perfect...so they could just rush the passer and make Cal beat them, which they couldn't seem to do.

Still I found it interesting how Fangio aligns his players in base defense, which pretty much lined up with what I hoped he'd bring to SF.  Can't wait to watch more!

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