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ESPN lists sneaky defensive strengths, looks at 49ers blitzing

The 49ers did not have a lot of successes in 2016, but blitzing brought some measure of success.

The San Francisco 49ers did not have a lot of things go right for them in 2015, but Aaron Schatz was determined to find positives. The Football Outsiders founder put together an article looking at one sneaky strength on each side of the ball for each NFL team. Earlier this week, he looked at defenses, and his 49ers sneaky strength reflected the blitz:

The 49ers allowed 8.0 yards per pass with a standard pass rush but only 5.6 yards per pass when blitzing. Defensive back blitzes were even better, allowing just 4.1 yards per pass.

The downside to this is we don’t know how those numbers rank against the rest of the NFL. But at least we know the 49ers blitzes were not entirely ineffective, so they’ve got that going for them!

Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil met with the media during OTAs, and it is no surprise he did not get into details about his scheme plans. Someone asked him about the team’s lack of sacks last season. The question was specifically if there were pieces in place for a good pass rush, or if it would come down more to scheme. O’Neil hit on the usual cliches in his response.

“Yeah, again, in this system we have done it a lot of different ways. We’ve been able to at times rush three over the years and get pressure on the quarterback. We’ve been able to rush four at times and get great pressure on the quarterback. And then, when we haven’t had a great pass rush, that’s when you pressure and you blitz more. So, we’re going to find ways to get after the quarterback, whether it’s three, four, five, six, seven guys if we have to, because if you let quarterbacks be comfortable in the pocket, it’s hard to win.”

The loss of Aaron Lynch for the first four games is going to be a significant issue for the defense. Sure, he had not reached Pro Bowl level performance, but he was the team’s most effective pass rusher last season. There will be a lot of pressure (no pun intended) on Eli Harold and Tank Carradine opposite Ahmad Brooks. The “upside” of Lynch’s suspension is that we will get a much better idea of where Harold and/or Tank stand. I’d prefer Lynch be around, but with Tank hitting free agency and Harold entering year two, something’s better than nothing I suppose.

I can’t imagine we’ll see a lot of blitzing in preseason action, so we are left to wait for Week 1 to see what kind of blitzing this defense will utilize. Will NaVorro Bowman get more chances to pressure the quarterback? Will Jaquiski Tartt get that opportunity in his hybrid role? We’ve seen Jimmie Ward blitz from his slot role at times, so maybe we see it from the outside as well. The 49ers have had issues with getting enough pressure in the past, but clearly they had some measure of success compared to when they did not bring pressure. What will we see this year?