49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio chatted with the media yesterday (transcript after the jump) and he was asked about the Lions offense and what they might throw around this week. He acknowledged that while they do throw the ball around a lot, they like to keep their tight ends on the field instead of spreading out with four wide frequently.
It is worth noting (courtesy of the Football Outsiders 2012 Almanac) that last season, the Lions went with 3+ receivers 61% of the time, but 4+ receivers only 3% of the time. They went with more than one tight end or more than five offensive linemen 38% of the time, which was good for ninth in the NFL. The 49ers were second in the league in that category.
In last season's matchup, the 49ers had Patrick Willis covering TE Brandon Pettigrew throughout the game. It was a tight battle, but I would argue that Pettigrew got the better of Willis in the end. Obviously the 49ers won, but this will still be a matchup to pay attention to on Sunday. The 49ers have shown confidence in NaVorro Bowman in coverage, but I suspect Willis will have the primary assignment on Pettigrew.
In part two of my discussion with Pride of Detroit's Sean Yuille, I asked him about Pettigrew and the Lions offense.
When the Lions have absolutely nowhere to run, Brandon Pettigrew essentially becomes the running game. We saw that last year in the Lions/49ers game. Stafford likes to go in Pettigrew's direction quite a bit because he can be such a matchup issue for defenses. Last week, Pettigrew struggled a bit with drops, but he really turned his game on late and played a big role in the Lions coming back to beat the Rams. There's no doubt he needs to be more consistent and eliminate his issues with drops, but Pettigrew is a big part of the Lions' passing game. Considering how few yards I expect the Lions to pick up on the ground this week, Pettigrew will have to be good if the Lions want to have a shot at moving the chains and ultimately winning.
Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio
Press Conference - September 13, 2012
San Francisco 49ers
Facing another team that likes to throw the ball around, is there much carry over from last week to this?
"Well, there is in the sense that they play a lot of the similar personnel groupings, and they have some similar talent. So, there is some carry over."
They don't do as many four wideouts, do they?
"No. They keep their tight ends on the field, either one or two of them a good bit of the time. But, they have the ability to do it if they so choose."
What's the thing that when you look at them that really makes it tough on opposing defenses?
"Well, you've got a really good passing quarterback. This guy can really spin the ball very well. He threw for 5,000 yards last year and a bunch of touchdowns. And obviously you've got [WR] Calvin Johnson at wide receiver, who's a rare player. Rare in his ability and his production, but also rare in his size and speed. He's 6'5", I believe 235 or more and runs fast. He's a very tough cover and he's very dangerous after he does catch the ball. Tackling him is not the chore that it is on most receivers. It's a tough duty and we've got to do a good job against him. And then they've got other players who do well off of him. They've got the tight end [TE Brandon] Pettigrew who does well. [WR Nate] Burleson, the receivers are a good group."
Have you unnoticed them doing anything different with Calvin Johnson as far as putting him in the slot or putting him in motion more?
"They do occasionally do that. They do."
Is that different than anything you saw last year?
"No. He was in there some last year also."
The way you defensed your game plan against the Packers, do you have to throw in different wrinkles? Or do you feel like you have the type of defense where you can say, this is how we're going to play it?
"This game or the previous game?"
Yeah. I mean, what you showed against the Packers. Do you have to provide different wrinkles each week?
"Well, each and every week you're going to do what you do. But, you're always going to try and have a little something that you may feel you need because of the offense that you're going against. Every offense has different strengths. So, you may need a little extra here and there to help you get through it, to win a series, win a critical play. So, you've always got that, you hope, in your plan."
This team, they use a lot more base personnel?
Last year, it seemed like LB Patrick Willis had a lot of one-on-one coverage on Pettigrew. In terms of being able to game plan, to affect the tight end, how much did that allow you to scheme the other receivers?
"Well anytime, if you're going to pay any extra attention to 81, which we'll have to do sometimes, you can't do it all the time. You can't even do it the majority of the time. That's going to create one-on-ones for them at other positions. So, we've got to be able to hold up. And Patrick did a good job last year, for the most part, in covering 87. But, he's a tough cover. He scored a touchdown on us last year down in the red zone. And he's one of the better all-around tight ends in this league. He's one of the few guys that is a confident receiver and a confident blocker."
What was your impression of LB Aldon Smith playing in his first game as an every-down linebacker?
"Well, that game there the way it turned out, he's had games like that last year. We've had games where it was mostly nickel and dime and sub situations, and he played a lot of them. So, he had those kinds of games last year. He only had six or seven plays against Green Bay where he actually played linebacker."
Do you take a certain amount of pride in that RB Frank Gore had double the amount of yards than the entire opposition? Do you look at that stat like him out rushing the whole other team?
"No. It wouldn't have been hard because they only handed the ball off nine times. So, that wouldn't be hard for Frank, or anybody else to beat on that day."
Why can't you give Calvin Johnson more attention snap to snap?
"Well, because if you overdo it that exposes you, number one, against the run. It exposes you against their other players on the field. At some point in the game, you're going to have to cover him just like you would anybody else. But, you know in the back of your mind that's a tough duty."
When you first came here you were known so much for all your blitz schemes. Obviously you haven't had to do that as much here. Do you miss it? Or is it a luxury as a defensive coordinator to not have to dial up on some blitzes?
"Well, we're going to do, here and anywhere, what we need to do to best fit our players and to win that particular game. And the best way that we play right now is the way that you've seen us play. And it does help to not have to do it. And you only have to do it when you want to do it. You don't have the feel that you need to do it all the time."
Obviously CB Carlos Rogers had never had a sack before last week. What made you think that it would be a good idea to bust him off out of the slot?
"Well, we've rushed him before in the past. That was the first DB that's gotten a sack here since we've gotten here. And he's done that before. That wasn't the first time he's blitzed, but that's the first time he got home all the way."
What did you think of CB Perrish Cox in his first game?
"He did well. He played a lot of plays. I don't know the exact number. I think it was in the 50s. And he did a good job. There were things he could have done better and hopefully will do better."
Last year you talked a little bit about CB Chris Culliver having, obviously, skills and talent. He just needed to learn how to prepare. What is he like as far as in that regard this year?
"As a what?
What is he like in that regard this year?
"He's done well. He's matured as a player. And maturity as a player needs to come in the classroom, as well as on the field. And he does a much better job of that now than he did last year. Not that he was bad last year, but he was a rookie. And the one thing that's hard for rookies coming in from college, we meet a lot more than their accustomed to coming from the college game. So, that's an adjustment for those guys to sit in and we meet probably close to three hours a day. OK, where in college football you can only have the players for four hours a day. So, you're really going to spend more time on the field than in meeting time. So, that's an adjustment for all rookies, one that he had to go through. And he deals with that and does a lot better with it now. And it's reflected in his play."
S Donte Whitner last week mentioned that maybe it's a little easier to play defense on the road because of communication. How much of a challenge is it for you to have your first home game played in front of loud fans?
"Well, we're used to it, this unit as a whole. It's a unit that played together for the most part last year with just one or two guys here that are new. And we had those couple playoff games last year at home, and some other big regular season games. I think they're used to it."
How far have you been able to assess their running game compared to what they had last year? I think RB Jahvid Best left in the middle of the game last year. And how many snaps did they take out of the shotgun against the Rams?
"How many total snaps? A pretty good bit, I don't have the exact number."
Three-fourths I heard, or something like that.
"Yeah that's probably close to being true."
So, how does that affect the running game in terms of your-?
"Well, this team will run the ball out of the gun. When they get in the gun that does not mean they're going to pass every time. They will run the ball out of the gun. And Green Bay, some of their runs came against us out of the gun also. That's kind of the new way of the NFL. When I came into the league, nobody was in the shotgun, even on third down. Then it became well, teams got into the gun on third down. Now they get into the gun on early downs. And early on it meant a lot of pass. Now teams run out of gun, too. So, everything evolves."
Does that change anything in terms of responsibilities for your front seven at all? In terms of how they can penetrate, or the stunts they have?
"No. Whether they're in the gun or not we still play it the same."
I remember last year Culliver barked a little bit at Calvin Johnson. Obviously he was a rookie. Did you realize early on that Chris Culliver had a little bit of confidence to him?
"Well, he's got confidence. And you've got to have confidence if you're a corner in this league. And I don't remember him doing that last year, but we had confidence in him when we drafted him in the third round and he's done nothing since he's got here to think that we shouldn't have confidence in him."