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49ers 2010 Defense: The Madness of Bend But Don't Break

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Although the 49ers pulled out the victory this past Sunday, we saw a familiar refrain repeat itself. The 49ers took the 20-17 lead with just over two minutes to go. After kicking away to the Rams, the 49ers defense allowed the Rams offense to march down the field and eventually get into field goal range. Unlike previous instances against the Saints and Falcons, this time the 49ers had enough cushion to prevent a complete catastrophe.

As that final drive of regulation was going down, I was pretty much convinced Sam Bradford was going to throw a game winning touchdown as time was close to expiring. The Rams reached the 49ers 18 yard line and had plenty of time on the clock to take some shots at the end zone. Things didn't work out for the Rams, they settled for three, and the 49ers went on to win in overtime. That certainly didn't make those final two minutes and ten seconds any easier to handle. While I was anxious during that final 49ers offensive drive in regulation, the subsequent Rams drive did a better job of trying to give me an ulcer.

This is not the first time this 49ers defense has done this. The Saints and Falcons losses are the most obvious examples, but we have seen this over the course of several games even when not a game-winning drive. I do see the value of the bend but don't break defense at times. The 49ers ability to hold teams to field goals is a very useful tool at times.

And yet, when the time comes to buckle down, the team brings an annoying inconsistency to the table. On the one hand you see the team give up the game-tying field goal as the Rams marched with relative ease down the field before the defense did just enough to force overtime. On the other hand you've got the Rams overtime drive in which the 49ers forced a three and out thanks to a timely sack by Justin Smith. On that overtime drive, the 49ers sent a blitz on the first play, stopped a run on the second, and then managed the sack from a 4-man front, with no additional blitzers, against the five offensive linemen.

Why can't we see more of this? I know the 49ers aren't going to sack the QB on every pass attempt, but the aggression shown on that last drive was something we don't seem to see often enough. The corners that I could see were playing up close, which is something that doesn't seem to happen enough. The team does a great job against the run and I'm certainly pleased with that. However the passive nature of the passing defense drives me crazy.

It's not like this is something that happened all of a sudden. This has been a staple of the defense for some time now: they seem to lack a certain killer instinct as a unit. There's a ton of talent out there, and yet when the jugular is exposed to them they don't seem to make an aggressive move towards it. And when we don't hear questions about it from the media it sort of baffles me. Coach Manusky will speak with the press on Thursday, so we'll see what kind of questions he gets.