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The key to beating the Chargers: don’t blitz

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It’s not going to be easy in any case, but you can’t cover Phillip Rivers short-handed

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Los Angeles Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism (or Daoism) has a key concept called wu-wei. It’s usually translated as “non-action,” which people then interpret to mean “sit on a couch and watch TV.” That’s not it at all.

The exact meaning of wu-wei is subtle, but it’s much closer to, “acting without trying so damn hard.” Or, “relax and do your thing.” Or, as football coaches say, “let the game come to you.”

That’s what George Lucas was getting at when Yoda said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh needs a little wu-wei to handle the Chargers today. Phillip Rivers is a master at beating blitzes by finding the holes they just opened up, and you can’t give him those opportunities.

Now, you might say, “Hey Mark, I don’t know about all your weird taoish Chinese philosophy stuff, but I know that most of the Niners secondary is out injured. Their replacements are going to need some help to control this explosive offense.”

And that’s an excellent point! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

But that’s exactly why we can’t throw them up against Phillip Rivers’ strength, undermanned. Those DBs, the Jimmie Wards and Antone Exum Jrs, are going to have to step up, and they need their help to come from a four-man rush.

It sould be doable, because the Chargers have a terrible offensive line. And SF has three top ten picks available to rotate into their defensive front.

PFF ranked the Chargers OL 29th in the league last week, and that was up from 30th the week before. (The Niners were 12th.) Analyst Michael Renner wrote:

Injuries have been an issue, but there’s still nothing good to speak of here. The Bolts have earned the second-lowest pass-block grade in the league and have been saved mightily by Philip Rivers’ quick release (2.37-second average, third-fastest in NFL).

So if you can deny him targets for a little longer, good things will happen. Especially if you look at San Diego’s weakest link: left guard Dan Feeney, who earned a 29.2 grade. That puts him in the same tier of pass blockers as Zane Beadles and Queen Elizabeth II.

The strength of San Francisco’s pass rush, on the other hand, is inside. DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead still haven’t reached their potential, but even so they have 32 pressures in 3 games. This would be an excellent time for them to justify the high picks spent on them.

Heck, if anything, the Niners should try rushing three and dropping another pass defender from time to time.

Sometimes double-teaming a pass rusher helps. But other times, it makes it easier to split the blockers, or confuse them with stunts, or beat them with a delayed rusher. Two blockers need to communicate with each other and can even be tricked into setting picks on each other.

This will be a very tough game, facing an elite offense with half the secondary and the Niners’ own QB out. But Saleh has to resist to temptation to “just do something!” The defensive line will either do, or do not. And if they don’t, blitzing will only make it worse.