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All-22 breakdown of the 49ers dominant defense performance against the Eagles

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An All-22 Breakdown of how the 49ers defense stepped up and secured a critical victory over the Eagles.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

After back to back second half collapses the 49ers escaped the Eagles to secure their second win of the 2014 season. The story of the game was how the 49ers defense smothered the Eagles. Yet they still needed a goal line stand to secure the victory due to the Eagles two special teams touchdowns and pick six. Let's break down the All-22 tape to see how the 49ers defense put together a complete performance and saved the Harbaugh from another agonizing loss.

With their backs against the wall at 1-2, the 49ers returned to their roots against the Eagles. On offense that meant a healthy dose of Frank Gore, elaborate pre snap motions/shifts, wasted timeouts, delay of game penalties and just enough passing offense to get it done.

On the other side of the ball, the 49ers put on a performance a la the 2011 team that was absolutely dominant defensively. Vic Fangio's unit not only shut out Chip Kelly's offense but kept them out of 49ers territory until the middle of the four quarter.

It was a nearly flawless defensive performance that was absolutely necessary as the 49ers gave up two special teams touchdowns and a pick six. The situation was so dire that with two minutes remain the Eagles were two yards away from scoring the go ahead touchdown, which would have been their first offensive points of the game.

But staring down a 1-3 start Patrick Willis and Co. stood tall and delivered a memorable goal line stand. It may of well saved the 49ers season and certainly gave the 49ers locker room a much needed win.

Let's look at the All-22 tape to see how the 49ers grounded the Eagles high flying offense by dominating the line of scrimmage, taking away the Eagle's easy throws/screen game and by coming up big when they were needed most.

Run Defense/Line of Scrimmage

Since Harbaugh and Fangio arrived in 2011, the 49ers defense has been elite because of its ability to control the line of scrimmage. With Justin Smith and Ray McDonald up front eating blocks and Willis and Bowman behind them, the 49ers have been the dominant rush defense in the NFL over the past few seasons.

After DeMarco Murray and Dallas chewed up the San Francisco defense in week 1, which doesn't look bad given how good Murray and the Cowboys rushing attack has been this season, the 49ers have returned to their dominant selves.

Let's look at how the 49ers took advantage of the Eagle's missing offensive linemen to completely shut down LeSean McCoy and disrupt the entire Philly offense.

Game Situation: 1st Quarter, 3:08, 2nd and 10 at the PHI 20, 49ers 3, Eagles 7

Offensive Personnel: 2 WR (Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper) 2 TE (Zach Ertz, Brent Celek) 1 RB (LeSean McCoy)

Formation: Shotgun Close Slot Left

Offensive Concept: Zone Read

Defensive Scheme: Man 1

ManningNearPick

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This play starts with the 49ers sticking in their base 3-4 personnel despite the Eagles having three wide outs on the field; most teams would bring in their nickel in the situation. Knowing the Eagles are a run first team, Fangio stuck to his big guns and packed the line of scrimmage. (EDIT: It was actually two TE with one split out at WR so the personnel was expected)

It worked as the Eagles had a paltry 22 yards rushing on only 12 carries. The reason was simple the 49ers controlled the line of scrimmage like they did on this play.

The Eagles offensive line got zero push and the 49ers trio of Ahmad Brooks, Justin Smith and Ray McDonald easily stacked their blockers. The result of this dominance up front was something that happened again and again Sunday, McCoy running harmlessly horizontally.

It must be noted that Washington did this to the Eagles-McCoy had 22 yards on 19 carries in D.C-last week and they were severely handicapped up front. But in the NFL injures are no excuse and the 49ers ability to control the line of scrimmage set up their entire defense.

Pass Defense/Screens

The Eagles offense is one of the simplest offenses in the NFL schematically. They don't rely on out executing teams or complex route combinations. Instead, Chip Kelly's offense is based around presenting multiple simple options with tempo across the entire width of the field. Simply put, the Eagles offense is a bunch of simple actions wonderfully intertwined.

By stretching the field horizontally the Eagles put pressure on an entire defense and force defensive players to match their skill players in space. Often the Xs and Os to do this are very simple but effective.

Let's look at an example of the Eagle's trying to get the ball to Darren Sproles on a quick swing pass that uses a vertical route from the tight end as a pick route of sorts.

Game Situation: 1st Quarter, 13:53, 3rd and 4 at the PHI 37, 49ers 0, Eagles 0

Offensive Personnel: 3 WR (Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews) 1 TE (Zach Ertz) 1 RB (Darren Sproles)

Formation: Shotgun Close Double Slot Right

Offensive Concept: Swing/Pick Route

Defensive Scheme: Robber

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At first glance you wonder why an NFL team would be running such a simple play that seems easily coverable. Then it becomes clear if the LB gets caught on the wrong side of the pick route, the Eagles get what their offense is designed to do, the ball in space.

Luckily for the 49ers this doesn't happen as Patrick Willis shows lateral quickness and some good play recognition-it looks like he knew what was coming once Philly got into this set-to avoid the pick. With Willis taking away the first option Foles is forced into his second option, Zach Ertz' corner route.

While Ertz is open with Michael Wilhoite trailing, the corner throw is one of the hardest in football. It shows as Foles overthrows Ertz.

The 49ers defense doesn't look particularly special on this play but they were quite effective. The play recognition took away the Eagles first option and forced them into a difficult throw, which is a win for any defense.

Another example of how the 49ers took away the Eagles first option was their excellent defense against Philly's lethal screen game. With Darren Sproles and LeSean McCoy in the backfield the Eagles have the possibility to turn any screen into six points.

Even more frightening is how the Eagles disguise their screens with misdirection and deception to give their speedy backs even more space to operate in.

Let's look at how the 49ers defense didn't fall for the misdirection and turned an Eagles screen pass into negative yardage.

Game Situation: 4th Quarter, 3:51, 2nd and 10 at the SF 35, 49ers 26, Eagles 21

Offensive Personnel: 3 WR (Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews) 1 TE (Zach Ertz) 1 RB (Darren Sproles)

Formation: Four Wide Shotgun

Offensive Concept: Misdirection Screen

Defensive Scheme: Cover 3

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With the receiver in motion for a jet sweep-which NFL offenses are finally embracing after years of NCAA teams utilizing to devastating effect-the Eagles are looking to stretch the 49ers defense horizontally and pull the defense towards the near side. It doesn't work but they still have a potentially dangerous situation with Sproles leaking out behind the entire interior offensive line.

But big Quinton Dial sniffs out the screen and quickly reverses field covering the much much much smaller Darren Sproles. That combined with the two underneath LBs crashing down completely destroys the screen play-Brooks lays the wood on Sproles for good measure as well.

Because of the great screen recognition, Foles is forced to tuck and run due to the offensive linemen downfield-a throw downfield would have resulted in a five yard penalty. Another win for Fangio's men.

It was perfect defense for a play that was Chip Kelly's offense in a nut shell-misdirection, width and a simple pass meant to get the ball into space. In all the Eagles ran six screen plays that gained 31 yards, an offensive pass interference penalty and this four yard sack.

Answering the Call

Despite a dominant performance the 49ers defense was faced with a do or die goal line stand late in the fourth quarter. A Philly touchdown would likely mean a 1-3 record and the third blown lead in a row. A stop would mean a much needed home win against an NFC playoff contender and avoiding another disastrous loss.

After an incomplete pass on and an absolutely brilliant touchdown saving tackle from Antoine Bethea on second down, the 49ers stuffed the Eagles twice to finish off the defensive shutout.

Let's look at how Antonie Bethea bailed out the 49ers again with a huge quarterback pressure on third down.

Game Situation: 4th Quarter, 2:00, 3rd and 1 at the SF 1, 49ers 26, Eagles 21

Offensive Personnel: 2 WR (Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper) 2 TE (Zach Ertz, Brent Celek) 1 RB (LeSean McCoy)

Formation: Two Tight End Shotgun Open Slot Left

Offensive Concept: Crossing Route/Pick Route

Defensive Scheme: Goal Line Zone

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This close to the endzone getting separation is difficult. Defenses are playing tight coverage knowing they only have to defend 10 or so yards. To counter that, the Eagles dial up a tidy play that sends the inside tight end through all of the traffic towards the far corner.

The misdirection of the play works to a certain extend as Chris Culliver follows the two slant routes across the field leaving the far corner wide open. Luckily for him Dan Skuta spots Celek cutting across the field and undercuts the route.

While Skuta's awareness was impressive what made the play was the quick pressure Bethea got off the right edge. Blowing by a piss poor blocking attempt from McCoy-Frank Gore surely shook his head in disgust at his fellow running back's blocking attempt-Bethea saved a touchdown by hurrying Foles.

Without the pressure Foles could have likely held the ball for the split second long enough for Celek to clear Skuta. But he didn't have the time and Skuta underneath position forced Foles into a difficult pass over the OLB.

It was a great play but the 49ers defenses job wasn't over. Down five the Eagles were going for it and a measly yard stood between a perfect defensive performance and an agonizing loss.

Let's look at the All-22 tape to see how two of the surprising stand out performers of the 49ers defense this season, Aaron Lynch and Perish Cox combined to complete the goal line stand.

Game Situation: 4th Quarter, 1:55, 4th and 1 at the SF 1, 49ers 26, Eagles 21

Offensive Personnel: 2 WR (Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper) 2 TE (Zach Ertz, Brent Celek) 1 RB (LeSean McCoy)

Formation: Two Tight End Shotgun Slot Left

Offensive Concept: Play Action Sprint Out

Defensive Scheme: Man

ManningNearPick

Another great play design by the Eagles with the tight end motioning left before a sprint out right with the same tight end cutting underneath the entire offensive line on a flat route. In man coverage the 49ers are facing a difficult situation but Cox bails them out with his patient and discipline play.

In coverage against the inside tight end who initially blocks down on the playfake, Cox stands his ground on the left edge waiting for a receiver to come across. When Ertz does-whose defender Bethea got lost in the traffic-Cox is there to prevent the easy touchdown.


The other aspect that disrupts the Eagles play is Aaron Lynch not crashing down and pressuring Foles as he sprints right. The pressure not only prevents Foles from extending the play but takes away the run option that would have been an easy touchdown if Ertz blocked Cox.

The result of the two outstanding plays from Cox and Lynch as well as solid pursuit from the other LBs/DBs is a high throw that even Dwight Clark would have had trouble bringing down.

Defense Rounding into Form

With Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman out, the 49ers defense was always going to take a step back. After all they are premier players at their positions and have been key cogs in the 49ers vaunted defense over the past four seasons-especially Aldon who is a one man pass rush.

Despite missing those two All-Pro players the 49ers defense has held its own through four games. The unit ranks second in terms of yards per game and is in the top ten in points allowed if you remove the special teams touchdowns and Kaepernick's pick six.

The nay sayers are probably pointing out the 49ers don't give up yards because they control the clock, have given opposing offenses short fields and played some short handed offenses right now. They are right but name me a team that hasn't caught a break. This is the NFL and pitching a defensive shutout and being a top defense in terms of yardage is a real accomplishment.

The best thing about the 49ers defense is that it should continue to get better. The secondary is young and has little experience together, Bethea also looks a great pick up, Aaron Lynch has gone from a promising fifth round pick to a great value to an impact player in the span of four regular season games, Wilhoite is filling in admirably for Bowman and Perish Cox is playing so well Brock's injury hasn't been a talking point.

Adding Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman into this talented unit mid season and the 49ers could once again have an intimidating defense when it matters most.

But the biggest take away from the win over the Eagles is that the 49ers rose to the occasion when they absolutely needed it. Losing that game simply wasn't an option and the defense responded with a performance that reminded the NFL that the 49ers are legit SuperBowl contender despite their early struggles.