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Game Planning within the division

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In response to an interesting comment by Vic Fangio, I have some thoughts about potential future game planning.

Thearon W. Henderson

Vic Fangio said something interesting in his most recent media session about game planning for the St. Louis Rams this week. I reproduce the question and the quotation here:

With facing Rams QB Austin Davis once and their entire offense once just a few weeks ago, how much do you lean on what worked in that game when looking ahead to this game?

"Well, you always, I don't think whether it was a couple weeks in between like it is now or if it was eight weeks or 10 weeks in between, it's still the last time you played them. I don't think you get away from what you did well, but understand that they'll adjust some, just like they'll adjust some, but it will still be our defense against their offense. They're not going to change their offense wholesale for us and likewise we wouldn't change our defense wholesale for them."

Even though Fangio's answer is a bit obvious, I was surprised upon reading it. Surely teams don't overhaul their offense or their defense upon facing a division rival the second time. As I said, this should be obvious. Doing such a thing in the middle of the season would represent a massive overhaul. But, in the Jim Harbaugh era, I've come to expect cagey answers about game planning - even with Fangio being the most forthcoming coach in media sessions.

So, when Fangio suggested that the team wouldn't change their approach much, it was a bit shocking. More than that, however, it got me thinking about how much teams want to change their game plan upon facing a division rival a second time during the season. With the Arizona game still looming on the horizon, this is a pertinent question to ask: with what degree of frequency and severity will the 49ers adjust to playing the Rams again this week and the Cardinals again later in the season?

I think, by and large, the 49ers like to stay the same. They like to be their team, opponents be damned. This is not always true, of course. The 49ers play the Seahawks differently in San Francisco than in Seattle. That is largely a product of the specific demands that playing in Seattle puts upon the visiting team. And, I imagine that the game against Arizona will be different largely due to the inconsistent offensive identity we saw earlier this season. I doubt that we see the same spread out approach that epitomized the beginning of that game.

An additional question, however, surrounds the nature of game planning for players returning from injuries. I don't think that secondary players have the same exact responsibilities as the starters. We can't know this for certain, but I would bet that coaches compensate when starters are injured. As we face teams for a second time this season (like we do the Rams this week), we will likely see the team adjust for returning players.